Owner of exploded Sarpy County dry cleaners sentenced for arson, fraud

Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 10:53 AM CST
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PAPILLION, Neb. (WOWT) - Michael McKernan, owner of a dry-cleaning business that exploded in 2018, was sentenced Thursday morning to two years in prison for arson.

McKernan was sentenced to two years for arson and one year for defrauding an insurer. The sentences will run concurrently, and with the “good time law” in effect, he could be released in a year.

Following the explosion of Wardrobe Spa dry cleaners in Omaha, McKernan sought to recover money from two insurance companies. An investigation revealed his business to have lost $100,000 in its first six months.

Investigators later determined the act was arson, and the Sarpy County Attorney’s Office filed charges against him in 2019.

A dry-cleaning business near 168th and Harrison streets burned down in a large fire caused by...
A dry-cleaning business near 168th and Harrison streets burned down in a large fire caused by an explosion on Oct. 7, 2018. The incident was later determined to be arson.(Adam Priester / WOWT)

Court documents show that McKernan drilled holes into gas lines for a dryer and furnace. That leaking gas ignited, causing the explosion and fire that destroyed the building.

McKernan pled “no contest” in September. His lawyers asked for no jail time and only probation, but the judge said that wasn’t a sufficient punishment for potentially putting lives at risk.

“This was a sentence that could carry probation, imprisonment, or a combination of the two, so we were prepared,” said Mallory Hughes, McKernan’s attorney. “It sounds like the judge reviewed everything that was sent to her and structured what she thought was a good sentence.”

Ben Perlman, deputy county attorney said he “thought it was a fair sentence for the seriousness of what happened.”

“There’s no question that people would’ve shown up. They would’ve been not in the parking lot — they would have gone right up to the building to find out where the gas smell was coming from. It could’ve been a lot worse,” he said.

McKernan’s wife was in the courtroom for the sentencing Thursday morning and cried as she watched her husband being led away in handcuffs.

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