Worker sues over injuries from Aspen-area home explosion |

Worker sues over injuries from Aspen-area home explosion

This photo, which is included in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ investigation report on the Feb. 3, 2022, home explosion outside of Aspen, shows damages to the basement wall in between the staircase and the south crawl space.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Diego Gonzalez had been putting his handyman skills to use at a luxury-home construction site on the outskirts of Aspen for nearly a year.

He was on the jobsite at 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2022, ready to work on framing and carpentry as well as complete organizational tasks, like arranging tools. Gonzalez wasn’t at work too long — he noticed his truck had a flat tire, so he went to Aspen to have it fixed. 

Back to work at 1:30 p.m., he was organizing tools in the upstairs kitchen area of the nearly finished two-level, 8,250-square-foot single-family home on 173 Slalom Path, one of the new subdivision’s three luxury homes under construction.

Soon after and in an instant, an explosion in the mechanical room directly beneath him thrust “him into the air like a ragdoll,” some 22 to 25 feet off the floor, before his head hit the ceiling.

“Mr. Gonzalez thought he was going to die,” said a lawsuit filed in Pitkin County District Court this week, which recapped his harrowing ordeal.

After emergency medical responders extracted him from the rubble, Gonzalez was transported to Aspen Valley Hospital in critical condition and then airlifted by helicopter to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver, where he stayed for 30 days. His spinal cord was injured, both hands and legs were broken, and he suffered mild brain trauma, among other such injuries as a partially torn bicep and torn LCL, according to the lawsuit. 

He lives in Carbondale with his wife, Jessica, who has been taking care of him since the explosion, the suit said. 

“Mr. Gonzalez will have future lost wages from the Explosion,” said the suit. “It is unclear if he will ever be physically able to work in construction again. The time since the Explosion has been the most challenging period of Mr. Gonzalez’s life.”

His medical bills totaled $833,223 at the end of 2022, according to the suit, which include negligence claims against South Dakota-based Black Hills Energy, Skyline Mechanical Inc. in Gypsum, as well as Glenwood Springs contractors R&A Enterprises of Western Colorado Inc. and Young Services LLC. 

Except for Black Hills, defendants contacted earlier this week did not respond to messages. 

An investigation into the explosion by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration turned up more than $100,000 in combined fines and penalties related to workplace-safety violations against three of the four defendants, as well as at least four other subcontractors, according to OSHA’s website. Black Hills has yet to face OSHA penalties. The project’s general contractor, Basalt-based Brikor Associates, which had hired Gonzalez as an independent contractor, also was penalized by OSHA. 

The suit blames Black Hills Energy for failing to inject the property’s gas lines and main line with odorants at their legal levels. By falling to lower levels, the odorants could not be detected by the workers, which would have signaled to them that there was a gas leak, the suit said. 

According to a statement issued Thursday by Black Hills, the company “maintains its natural gas lines in compliance with federal and state requirements, including those requirements governing the amount of odorant added to natural gas. The Aspen area odorant levels were above the levels required by law when measured after the explosion and in the weeks prior to the Feb. 3, 2022, incident on Slalom Path.”

Three other workers were hospitalized from the explosion, and four more were treated onsite for injuries, according to an investigation report led by Aspen Fire Protection District and aided by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control; and OSHA. Thirty employees were on the site at the time of the explosion, the report said.

Benjamin Smith, deputy fire marshal for the Aspen Fire Department, concluded in the investigation report that the explosion was accidental and originated in the home’s crawl space where natural gas had built up. The explosion damaged windows, doors, flooring, and both interior and exterior walls. 

“The release of natural gas into the confined space below the kitchen reached the explosive range,” said his investigation report.

The suit alleges that employees with Skyline Mechanical Inc., R&A Enterprises, and Young Service failed to make “sure enclosed locations were properly ventilated, marked, and planned out, and make sure their work was done in accordance with relevant safety regulations.”

They also failed to communicate among each other the about the work they were doing preceding the explosion. That included some workers using igniters in the same vicinity the gas line was being purged by another employee to perform a pressure test. The employee “believed he was purging air instead of natural gas from the gas line,” while an electrician was hanging a light fixture in the same enclosed crawl space, the suit says. 

The wife also has suffered from the experience, according to the suit, which makes a claim for loss of consortium. Jessica Gonzalez also has been her husband’s “primary caregiver,” the suit says. Diego Gonzalez has undergone multiple surgeries and has been rehabbing daily or exercising at home, the suit says. The couple’s apartment was retrofitted with a ramp and bigger doors to accommodate Diego Gonzalez.

Michael Fox of Aspen law firm Kalamaya | Goscha filed the suit on behalf of the Gonzalez couple. 

“Carbondale resident Diego Gonzalez was nearly killed a year ago in a gas explosion that resulted from multiple parties’ negligence,” Fox said in a statement. “This has been the most difficult time of Diego’s life, but he remains strong and grateful for the community’s support. We look forward to obtaining justice for Diego through the court process.”


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