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Second Wrongful Death Suit Planned After Merrimack Valley Fires

Second Family Plans Wrongful Death Suit Against Columbia Gas And NiSource

Fires, Explosions Rock Lawrence, North Andover and Andover
Crews worked to knock down a fire on Jefferson Street in Lawrence on Sept. 13.
Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe via Getty Images
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Second Wrongful Death Suit Planned After Merrimack Valley Fires

The family of a man who had a heart attack after he was evacuated from his North Andover home during the gas fires in the Merrimack Valley plans to file a wrongful death suit against Columbia Gas and its parent company, NiSource, WGBH News has learned.

It would be the second wrongful death case against the companies in the wake of the Sept. 13 disaster.

The estate of North Andover resident Kenneth DeVeau plans to sue the companies, alleging that the gas crisis resulted in his death more than a week after his evacuation, according to attorney Marc Breakstone, who is representing DeVeau's estate. He says that the 57-year old had limited mobility because of a chronic neurological condition. An online obituary for DeVeau says he "battled many illnesses, including Myotonic Dystrophy and a weakened heart."

Breakstone said DeVeau activated his medical alert bracelet to call an ambulance since he was unable to evacuate on his own.

Deveau was picked up by an ambulance, and several hours later, his sister saw in a television news report from the North Andover shelter that her brother had been brought there in a stretcher, Breakstone said.

Kenny on Gurny with EMT%27s.jpg
A photograph of the television news report that Kenneth DeVeau's sister saw, showing that her brother had been brought to a North Andover shelter in a stretcher, according to attorney Marc Breakstone.
Courtesy of Marc Breakstone

The next day, "his sister received a call that he had had a cardiac arrest in the evacuation center, had died, and had to be brought back by resuscitation and transported emergency to the Lawrence General Hospital, where he was briefly conscious and then fell into a coma" Breakstone said. DeVeau remained in a coma until his death on Sept. 26.

Breakstone said he has notified Columbia Gas and NiSource of the family's intention to bring a claim of wrongful death.

"The negligence and potentially gross negligence of Columbia Gas directly caused the man being placed in an environment that his body couldn't handle, resulting in a catastrophic heart attack and his death," he said.

Breakstone said before the lawsuit is filed, DeVeau's sister must be appointed the personal representative to his estate, which could take several months.

In a statement, a spokesman for NiSource said the company can't speak specifically to the details of the legal actions being filed.

NiSource acknowledged the second lawsuit in a quarterly financial disclosure to the S.E.C., detailing its financial and legal liabilities.

"Many residents and business owners have submitted individual damage claims to Columbia of Massachusetts," the document states. "We also have received notice from two parties indicating an intent to assert wrongful death claims."

The companies were also notified of an intent to file a wrongful death claim in the case of 18-year-old Leonel Rondon, who was killed by falling debris from an exploding house.

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