M.U.D. employees testify at civil trial over M’s Pub explosion

WOWT 6 News Live at 6:30
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 9:43 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Three days into a two-week trial to decide who is to blame for a massive fire in the Old Market six years ago, several Metropolitan Utilities District employees took the stand.

The workers were in charge of marking where the gas lines were underground.

Until the fire in January 2016, the Mercer building at the corner of 11th and Howard streets helped serve as an Old Market cornerstone of history.

The owners lived above M’s Pub.

The raging fire left nothing but a shell. Remarkably, it’s still standing.

But the wheels of justice turn slowly.

In court Wednesday, testimony about what M.U.D. workers did when asked to mark the water and gas lines. That way, the 5G fiber optic digging crew from Minnesota could avoid trouble.

The plaintiffs’ legal team says the gas line, marked with yellow dots barely bigger than a quarter, aren’t an industry standard and played a large role in the explosion and fire — not to mention that they would have been hard to spot when another employee drove by to make sure the markings were still visible for the diggers.

Attorneys for M.U.D. have argued that the yellow dots are accepted within the digging community, and that their employees walked the property with those in charge to understand where the digging would occur to try to avoid any potential problems.

The state fire marshal has yet to testify. His report, filed months after the fire, determined the Minnesota digging company hit the gas line and that M.U.D. did not adequately mark the gas line on the sidewalk above it.

Remember: It took M.U.D. 90 minutes after the fire call to locate and turn off the gas valve located across the street — an abandoned gas line closer to M’s Pub had apparently caused confusion.

M.U.D. has said the damage was already done from the explosion and fire and that the delay didn’t change the outcome. But an attorney for the Mercers and M’s Pub argue the delay made things way worse.

Once District Court Judge Timothy Burns decided who is to blame — and it can be multiple parties — there will be another trial to determine damages.

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