Family of man killed in Realty blast files wrongful death suit

YOUNGSTOWN — The mother and sister of Akil M. Drake, the JP Morgan Chase Bank employee who was killed in the May 28 explosion at the Realty building on East Federal Street downtown have sued the Realty property owner, a management company, a construction company and several natural gas related companies.

The suite was filed Saturday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. It is assigned to Judge Anthony D’Apolito.

The suit seeks unspecified damages against the defendants, alleging that their actions or omissions were negligent. The suit alleges that Drake was “unlawfully killed.” It calls Drake’s sister, Traesha D. Pritchard of Charlotte; and Drake’s mother, Sharnette Crite-Evans of Pittsburgh, “beneficiaries of (Drake’s) wrongful-death estate” and calls both of them the “to-be-named administratrix” of Drake’s estate.

“All damages sought by the plaintiff in this lawsuit were caused by the negligent acts or omissions of the named defendants,” the suit alleges.

“The negligence involves departure from reasonable activity and behavior of a reasonable person under like or similar circumstances and where applicable the failure to reasonably use the utmost care that a reasonable, careful engineer, construction contractor or other professional engaged in the activity related to natural gas distribution would use under like or similar circumstances as presented in this case,” it adds.

The suit names as a defendant Yo Properties 47 LLC, which the suit states is the owner and operator of the Realty Tower, located at 47 Federal Plaza, also sometimes listed as 47 E. Central Square. Yo Properties LLC’s address is 47 Market St. in Youngstown. It lists Bryan Ridder of Canfield as statutory agent.

Also named as a defendant is LY Property Management LLC, of 11 Central Square West in Youngstown and 201 E. Commerce St., Suite 200 in Youngstown. It lists as statutory agent Sarah E. Marchionda of Poland.

Also named as a defendant is Greenheart Companies LLC of Southern Boulevard in Boardman with Brian Angelilli of a post office box in Youngstown as statutory agent.

It also names as defendants several natural-gas-related companies East Ohio Gas Co. of Cleveland and Columbus, doing business as Enbridge Gas Ohio, formerly doing business as Dominion Energy Ohio; Enbridge Elephant Holdings LLC of Houston; Enbridge Alternative Fuel LLC of Columbus; Enbridge Pipelines (Toledo) Inc. of Houston and Cleveland; Enbridge Genoa U.S. Holdings LLC of Annapolis, Md. and Austin; Enbridge (U.S.) Inc. of Houston; Enbridge (U.S.) Gas Distribution LLC, formerly known as Dominion Energy Gas Distribribution LLC of Richmond and Glenn Allen, Va.; Dominion Energy Questar Corp. of Salt Lake City; and Dominion Energy Inc. of Richmond and Glenn Allen, Va.

Stephanie Moore, communications consultant for Enbridge in Cleveland emailed in response to a Vindicator request for comment on the lawsuit by saying, “We express our deepest sympathy to the family of Akil Drake. Enbridge Gas Ohio does not comment on ongoing litigation.”

The lawsuit states that Greenheart Companies LLC carries out “all levels of construction services, including general contracting, design-build and carpentry services and was hired to perform private utility relocation in the basement of Realty Tower.”

The suit states that Enbridge Energy Gas Distribution LLC, formerly known as Dominion Energy Gas Distribution LLC (Enbridge Gas Distribution) is a Virginia limited liability partnership with its principal place of business in Richmond, Va., “and among other things, is in the business of owning, operating or transporting natural gas and transmits, maintains, and oversees natural gas pipelines.”

The suit alleges that YO Properties owns the Realty Tower, and the building is “managed for a fee by defendant LY Property Management.” It alleges the natural gas utility main-line near the Realty Tower was owned either jointly or separately by defendants East Ohio Gas, Enbridge Elephant, Enbridge Alternative, Enbridge Toledo, Genoa, Enbridge U.S., Enbridge Gas Distribution, Dominion Energy and/or Dominion Quester.

The lawsuit states that nature gas “is a highly flammable and extremely dangerous source of fuel and is especially susceptible to ignition (which can cause catastrophic injury and death) when it is released in a confined area such as the basement of the Realty Tower.”

Activities related to the use of natural “are governed and regulated by federally via the Code of Federal Regulations, state law and or state regulation, including matters set forth in the Ohio Administrative Code, industry standards and recommended practices, the manufacturers recommendations of all equipment involved.”

The lawsuit alleges that prior to the explosion, the city of Youngstown “had undertaken in the vicinity of Realty Tower,” and the city hired contractors, to design, oversee and complete a sidewalk-replacement project.

The project involved removing old pipe and other outdated infrastructure and debris in the basement and vault area of the Realty Tower, which extends underneath the sidewalk next to the building, the suit states. The intent was to relocate the utility lines from under the sidewalk to the basement of Realty Tower, it states.

The suit gives an account of the work of the Greenheart crew the afternoon of the explosion that matches with what the National Transportation Safety Board stated at a press conference after the explosion — that four crew members made cut two cuts into piping along the basement wall of the Realty building, then realized after the third cut that it had released natural gas into the air.

It added that the crew “evacuated the basement, then pulled the fire alarm” and that the building exploded about six minutes from the time the gas line was cut, causing “a devastating and wide-spanning explosion.”

It resulted in Drake “being injured and trapped and unable to escape the Realty Tower. Mr. Drake endured pain, suffering and terror for an extended period of time prior to succumbing to the injuries caused by the explosion and passing away alone and afraid.”

When a Greenheart representative was asked by phone Monday whether the company wanted to comment on the lawsuit, she replied “We have no comment at this time.”

The suit also alleges that YO Properties “which was overseeing an active construction site, owed a non delegable duty for the inherently and/or unreasonable dangerous environment it was in control of” and “breached its … duty … in that it failed to maintain a premises reasonably safe” for the people inside the building.

It also alleges that YO Properties “failed to warn invitees, including but not limited to Akil M. Drake, of the potentially hazardous conditions that it had allowed on its property.” It also alleges that Yo Properties “knowingly and negligently allowed an understaffed and unsupervised crew to come upon its premises in the middle of a weekday, and perform highly and inherently and/or unreasonably dangerous work of cleaning out and moving utility and other lines.”

YO Properties also “knowingly and negligently failed to properly supervise the inherently and/or unreasonably dangerous work on its premises” and “failed to have any policies and procedures in place to ensure that crews performing inherently and/or unreasonably dangerous work on its presumes complied with all rules and regulations and standards of reasonable care care.”

The suit seeks damages against YO Properties “either individually or jointly and severally” with other defendants.

The suit seeks similar damages from LY Management Property and Greenheart for negligence.

As far as the natural-gas related companies, which the suit refers to as the “Enbridge entities,” the lawsuit alleges negligence, stating that they “owed a non delegable duty to warn, advise, instruct and communicate with the contractors working on the subject Realty Tower project” regarding pressurized gas lines and to “have a plan in place for managing any mistakes made in the handling of those lines.”

The lawsuit was filed by Patrick Mcfarland of Parkersburg, W.Va., and the firm of Clark Fountain La Vista Littky-Rubin & Whitman of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

No one from Yo Properties 47 or LY Property Management returned calls seeking comment on the lawsuit, nor did Bryan Ridder, statutory agent for Yo Properties 47.

Have an interesting story? Contact Ed Runyan by email at erunyan@vindy.com.


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