Three Union Pipefitters Killed in Explosion

MIDDLETON, CONN. - Six Connecticut construction workers, including three pipefitter affiliates of United Association Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 777, were killed on Feb. 7 by a massive explosion that occurred while they were purging a natural gas piping system at a power plant construction site in Middletown, about 15 miles south of Hartford.

Raymond Dobratz, 58, Peter Chepulis, 48, and Ronald J. Crabb, 42, were all active members of Local 777 based out of Meriden, Ct.

"These Brothers were hard working members with a combined total of over 80 years of work experience. They were dedicated Union Brothers, exceptional family men and all were active in their communities. They will be greatly missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families," Local 777 said in a statement.

The explosion, which injured 26 others, was said to have created an earthquake-like force, shaking homes across Connecticut. The 620-megawatt Kleen Energy Systems power plant was to begin producing power by this summer.

Company and local officials, as well as OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, are investigating the explosion to determine if criminal negligence contributed to the accident. Police have ruled out any intentional act.

Two other men were killed in the blast, Roy Rushton of Hamilton, Ontario, and Chris Walters of Florissant, Mo., and a third, Kenneth Haskell, 37, from New Durham, N.H., died five days later as a result of injuries he sustained during the explosion.

Donations to the Dobratz, Chepulis and Crabb families can be made to the Local 777 Victim's Benevolent Fund, care of Local 777, 1250 East Main Street, Meriden, CT 06450.

In early March, two electricians who survived the blast filed the first of what is expected to be several lawsuits against the contractor that conducted the gas line purge.