MIAMI (CBSMiami) – State investigators say it’s case closed on the Plantation explosion and after months of investigation, the official cause of the explosion is “undetermined,” according to a Florida Department of Financial Services report obtained by CBS 4 News.
It’s been known for months that investigators believed an open gas valve at a vacant pizza shop was triggered by an air conditioning unit. Investigators believe that sparked the explosion that injured 22 and destroyed numerous businesses in the Market on University shopping plaza. But the question remained — how did that gas valve get opened?
The report says that is undetermined and investigators addressed how they tried to answer that question.
“The only plausible explanations for the sudden opening of the gas valve is that it was opened on purpose through direct human intervention, or it was inadvertently opened by something being ‘bumped’ into the valve,” the report reads. Investigators say they performed an “exhaustive search” for surveillance video that might have shown how the valve got opened. But they were unsuccessful.
The report also mentions the air conditioning units in the vacant business, Pizzafire. “The air conditioners were left on in the space because the agent was showing the space to prospective renters,” the report says. “There is no reason nor any evidence to support them being used as a timed-initiating device to cause the explosion.”
State investigators say the gas valve appeared to be closed for some time. “Readings from TECO showed that the valve had been closed for months but was opened to possibly a ‘full-flow’ position the morning of the explosion,” the report says.
The inconclusive report left some people who worked at the plaza feeling let down. Melissa Lopez worked for 8 years at Great Clips Hair Salon, just a few doors where the explosion happened.
“Not having an answer as to why it was done is very hard for me to deal with,” she told CBS 4 News.
Like many, Lopez considered the plaza a second home. She wasn’t at the plaza when the blast occurred but she has suffered the ramifications.
“After years it’s not customers. They’re part of your family. To have that torn apart, it’s very difficult emotionally,” she said. “I’m still only working around less 20 hours a week when I was working around 35 hours before. It’s hit me financially also.”
The report has left some to wonder how the state’s conclusion will affect the ability of the victims and business owners to hold accountable the people responsible for the blast. CBS 4 News spoke with Ed Zebersky, a personal injury attorney who is not connected to the case. He said even though state investigators were unable to determine who was at fault for opening the gas valve that does not preclude the victims and affected business owners from suing.
“It’s just going to require more private investigation to figure out what happened,” Zebersky told CBS 4 News.
Another issue raised is whether the gas valve had a locking mechanism on it. CBS 4 News asked TECO if there was a locking mechanism. A spokesperson said they will try to get us an answer.
The section of the plaza where the explosion occurred has been demolished and will be replaced, according to permit records from the city of Plantation. All but one of the other businesses across from the explosion are still shuttered, including LA Fitness and the Dragon Buffet. Zona Fresca Fresh Mexican Grill opened this past Monday after being closed for more than 6 months.
State investigators say even though the case is closed they will reopen it if they get additional useful information. If you know anything you’re asked to call the Florida Arson hotline at 1-877-662-7766.