Lawsuit: Chocolate Maker Ignored Alert Before Blast

Pennsylvania explosion killed 7 workers last month
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 27, 2023 12:27 AM CDT
Updated Apr 11, 2023 5:33 PM CDT
7 Confirmed Dead in Chocolate Factory Blast
Rubble is cleared at the site of a deadly explosion at a chocolate factory in West Reading, Pa., Saturday, March 25, 2023.   (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)
UPDATE Apr 11, 2023 5:33 PM CDT

A Pennsylvania candy-maker ignored warnings of a natural gas leak at its chocolate factory and bears responsibility for a subsequent explosion that killed seven workers and injured several others, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. The family of Judith "Judy" Lopez-Moran, a 55-year-old mother of three, filed what their lawyers called the first wrongful-death suit against RM Palmer Co. after the March 24 blast in West Reading, the AP reports. Workers smelled natural gas that day and notified Palmer, but the 75-year-old, family-owned company "did nothing," the lawsuit states. "The gas leak at the factory and the horrific explosion it caused was foreseeable, predictable, and preventable." Authorities are still investigating the cause of the explosion.

Mar 27, 2023 12:27 AM CDT

All seven bodies have been recovered from the site of a powerful explosion at a chocolate factory in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, the AP reports. West Reading Mayor Samantha Kaag said in a statement Sunday night that none of the victims will be named until officials are certain that all families have been contacted. “Please understand that this is a devastating loss, but we are truly grateful to bring closure to the families involved in the upcoming days,” Kaag said. Police Chief Wayne Holben said at a press briefing just after 9pm that rescue workers had found the bodies earlier in the evening and that they are believed to be the remaining two individuals who were listed as missing earlier in the day. Their identities will be confirmed by the Berks County Coroner’s Office, he said.

The blast at the RM Palmer Co. plant in the borough of West Reading, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, occurred just before 5pm Friday; the cause is still not clear. Rescue crews had been using heat imaging equipment and dogs to search for possible survivors after the blast destroyed one building and damaged a neighboring building. Crews were using heavy equipment to methodically and carefully pull debris from the site, Holben said. Three buildings around the site will be condemned as a precaution, Kaag said. Kaag said some residents have reported damage to windows from the blast, and she asked people to “take a walk around your house” and report any damage. Gov. Josh Shapiro visited the site Saturday and vowed support from the state.

Officials said they had no update on the condition of a woman pulled alive from the rubble early Saturday. Kaag said she had apparently been on the second floor and was found in a “hopeful circumstance,” calling out to rescuers despite her injuries after a dog located her. Officials also reported no updates on the conditions of those taken to hospitals. Reading Hospital said it received 10 patients and transferred two to other facilities, while two others were admitted in good and fair condition respectively and the others had been discharged.

(Read more Pennsylvania stories.)

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