Thursday marks 1-year anniversary of a deadly natural gas explosion in Wayne

There could still be penalties for Consumers Energy

By Shawn Ley - Reporter

WAYNE, Mich. - Church bells rang at 9 a.m. in the tidy community of Wayne Thursday morning. At 9:05 a.m., tears and hugs marked the sad anniversary for so many here.

It's been one year since a natural gas explosion ripped through the William C. Franks Furniture Store, killing employees James Zell and Leslie Machniak on December 29, 2010. 

Store owner Paul Franks was also inside. He suffered sever burns and he has since recovered, according to friends of his.

Family members of those lost in the explosion gathered at the empty site on South Wayne Road at the very time an explosion here a year ago leveled the store, changing lives forever.  

A natural gas leak is has been blamed for sparking the explosion.

More than 30 metro Detroit fire departments responded to the collapsed furniture store that day.

Urban search and rescue crews worked hours to recover the bodies of Zell and Machniak. 

Now a year later, Consumers Energy says it's investigated and can't come up with an exact cause of the blast.

That morning, people called the fire department reporting a gas leak and a smell of gas in the air.

Consumers says it's probe found a crack in a gas line a couple of hundred feet from Franks Furniture, but it can't determine if that's the leak that led to the deadly explosion, or if the crack is from damage from the explosion.

 hose findings are frustrating Wayne's Mayor, Al Haidous.

He met Local 4 at the furniture store site Thursday morning.  He says without an exact cause, there is no clear fix and no assurance from Consumers Energy that something similar won't happen again. 

Haidous also says he's been in contact with store owner Paul Franks. He calls Franks "tough" and that he's has since made the long road back from his burns. Franks recently went to a Chamber of Commerce event.

Haidous hopes Franks rebuilds his store and reopens someday. 

Now, the site of Franks Furniture is an empty lot surrounded by a chain link fence. Several neighboring businesses are also vacant.

The buildings suffered structural damage and insurance claims to level them have yet to be completed. 

Paul Franks has never spoken publicly about the explosion.

 Local 4 spoke with the family of long time salesman Zell in the days following the blast.  They told us then that his loss broke the family's heart. Since then, the family has taken legal action against Consumers Energy and has made no other public comments.

Ten lawsuits have been filed against Consumers in this past year. The lawsuits are from victim's family members and from other business and property owners that suffered damage in the explosion. Six of the 10 lawsuits have been settled.

The utility says that does not mean the company is accepting responsibility for the explosion.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.