Criminal negligence charges are possible in the Escambia County Jail explosion case if investigators find that authorities failed to evacuate the building after becoming aware that there was a smell of natural gas.  The April 30th explosion killed 2 inmates, paralyzed a guard, and injured 200 others.  There were 600 inmates in the jail when the explosion ripped through the bottom floor, a day after heavy flooding and torrential rains left two feet of water in the basement.  State Attorney Bill Eddins said late Tuesday that criminal negligence charges were a possibility, “That is an issue that clearly has to be examined.”

An assistant state attorney, a state attorney investigator, the Florida fire marshal, and the ATF are all investigating a cause for the blast, but it is suspected as a natural gas explosion.  The investigation is estimated to take several months and charges will only be filed if a jail authority was grossly negligent in ensuring the safety of others.

The jail was running on generator power when the explosion occurred.  Pensacola attorney Scott Barnes is representing one inmate in a planned lawsuit against the county.  As a government agency, under Florida law, lawsuits are capped at $200,000, “Absolutely what I am hearing is that inmates were complaining of smelling gas well before the explosion.”

County officials have said that no 911 calls were placed about the smell of gas and that the jail’s basement had been flooded before and no explosion occurred.  Barnes said that inmates couldn’t call 911 even if they wanted to, “They were at the mercy of other[s]…”


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