The investigation into what caused a Kettering house to explode early Tuesday morning, killing a 58-year-old woman, may take several months and may involve multiple parties.
Kettering emergency personnel were called to the North Claridge Drive home shortly after 4:30 a.m. and encountered massive flames shooting into the sky in the suburban neighborhood.
The resident, Darlene Baumgardner, who was found in a neighbor’s yard when crews arrived, died of multiple blunt-force trauma and thermal injuries, according to the preliminary findings by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.
Scott Bennett, former Dayton fire investigator and president of the International Association of Arson Investigators, has been hired by a law firm to investigate the explosion.
Bennett was at the site on Wednesday for a visual inspection.
He said the “hands-on” part of the investigation will happen at a later date after all interested parties are identified, and the investigation will likely take several months to finish.
Bennett said in incidents like this, several people will seek to conduct their own investigation, including the victim’s family, the home insurance provider, neighbors, utilities companies and the manufacturers of the gas-fed appliances in the home.
The next phase of the investigation will be to identify who will have a potential interest in determining what happened, then those parties will meet at the site for the hands-on portion, which involves testing the home’s appliances and natural gas lines to determine if there were any leaks, he said.
The idea is to get everyone there at the same time to “level the playing field,” Bennett said.
Despite the utter destruction of the home, Bennett said there’s still “a ton of evidence to look at.”
Any pipe fitting or appliance that appears to have a leak will be sent to a laboratory for further testing. That testing will include x-rays and viewing the pieces under a microscope.
Bennett said metallurgists can see a fracture in a pipe and determine if it’s a new fracture or an old one.
Those interested parties may include the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
If a gas leak is linked to the cause of the explosion, PUCO may be obligated to launch an investigation, said PUCO Spokesman Matt Schilling.
“If the gas utility appears to be involved, as state regulators of gas pipeline safety, we would get involved,” Schilling said.
Schilling said PUCO investigates to determine that state and federal gas pipeline safety standards were followed and to determine if there were any contributing factors.
If the source of the leak is determined to be inside the home, Schilling said PUCO would not be involved in the investigation because it wouldn’t involve the “utilities infrastructure.”