Authorities will not press criminal charges in Sun Prairie explosion

Published: Dec. 20, 2018 at 10:39 AM CST
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Viewer discretion advised on watching the video of the explosion at the request of The Barr family and the Sun Prairie Police Department.

Sun Prairie Police Chief Patrick Anhalt said there is no probable cause to believe a crime was committed in July's explosion in downtown Sun Prairie.

Chief Anhalt said, "They collected 45 pieces of evidence, reviewed over 400 pages of documents, reviewed 67 interviews and consulted closely with the Dane County District Attorney’s Office and Wisconsin Attorney’s Office."

Chief Anhalt held a press conference on Thursday morning in Sun Prairie. He said the investigation is now considered inactive.

Authorities determined the gas explosion was caused after an unmarked gas line was cut, resulting in a gas leak.

"This error appears to be the result of miscommunication between USIC, Bear Communications, Jet Underground, and VC Tech," said Chief Anhalt.

The report indicates Verizon Wireless first contracted Bear Communications for an underground fiber installation project. Bear Communications subcontracted Jet Underground to perform the construction.

Before the work began, Bear Communications switched subcontractors to VC Tech.

"Prior to the explosion conversations occurred between representatives of each of these companies both on and off site during which incomplete and inaccurate information was exchanged and relied upon," said Chief Anhalt.

In November, court documents found a contractor failed to properly mark a natural gas line that was hit by crews laying fiber optic lines.

The blast happened on July 10 and veteran firefighter Captain Cory Barr was killed as a result of the injuries.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice's report started the investigation of the fire as an arson-causation investigation.

The Wisconsin DOJ report also found over 25 properties sustained varying degrees damage during the explosion from completely destroyed to major damage.

"Moving forward it is our sincere hope that this tragedy will result in a serious evaluation of regulatory language pertaining to the responsibilities of those engaged in utility work," said Chief Anhalt.

The announcement not to press criminal charges has left some people in Sun Prairie with conflicted feelings.

"I want those responsible to be held responsible, but a lot of the information that came out today really illustrates the multiple layers that were involved," said Patrick DePula, the owner of Salvatore's Tomato Pies.

"[The companies] all should have been on the same page," said Maria Hernandez, who lost her home in the explosion.

Chief Anhalt said, "I have in the past I would like to express my deep appreciation for the courageous efforts of our fire fighters paramedics and police officers to assist those in harms way both before and after the explosion. We’ll never know how many lives were saved but we do know that about 250 people were evacuated from the area prior to the explosion."

"I would like to extend my gratitude to my fellow community members for your overwhelming care and concern you extended to the Barr family, the injured the displaced the devastated and the first responders. We will not forget your kindness and support," added Chief Anhalt.

Lawsuits filed

Three people sued contractors involved in the Sun Prairie explosion from July 10, 2018, according to online court records.

Abigail Barr, wife of Capt. Cory Barr, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Dec. 20, 2018, according to online court records.

Sun Prairie Volunteer Capt. Cory Barr also owned the Barr House. Cory Barr was killed in an explosion after a natural gas line was hit.

Abby Barr sued VC Tech, Inc. Bear Communications, Inc. USIC Locating Services, Inc. and WE Energies in the wrongful death lawsuit.

The companies were all named in the criminal investigation.

Firefighter Ryan Welch filed a personal injury lawsuit against the contractors, too, according to court records.

Welch was severely injured in the July explosion. Welch had facial burns, a jaw broken in several places and hand injuries among other injuries.

Sun Prairie Firefighter Greg Pavlik also filed a personal injury lawsuit against the contractors and companies connected to the explosion.

Stay with NBC15 for all details in this still developing story.

USIC Spokesperson releases statement:



"USIC is pleased that the Sun Prairie Police Department came to the correct conclusion that there was no probable cause to believe that a crime was committed by any USIC employee.  USIC remains committed to ensuring that all stakeholders follow safe excavation practices which includes ensuring that the 811 Diggers Hotline is contacted by each and every person or entity who will be performing excavation in Wisconsin before the excavation begins."