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2 Investigators: Family Still Searching For Answers After House Explosion

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FREEPORT, Ill. (CBS) — A gas explosion inside a home is being blamed for a man’s death. He had an uncapped gas line which was considered a hazard, yet somehow gas was apparently still provided to the home. A family fighting for two years to find out how this could happen, turned to the CBS 2 Investigators and Dave Savini who has this original report.

The blaze was intense and fire fighters worked to get it under control. Just prior, neighbors reported hearing an explosion and a “hissing” sound — a sign of natural gas danger inside the home. Once the fire was under control, inside the rubble, fire fighters found the body of the homeowner, Rick Hirata. His daughter Tomi Hirata says it was devastating.

“His coat was sitting on a chair,” says an emotional Hirata.

Her father was killed in his kitchen where fire investigators say an uncapped gas line caused an explosion.

“When we opened the door and went in, it was, you know, it was just gone,” said Hirata.

She says all that is left today is a vacant lot and questions related to how gas was able to pour into the home.

The blast was January 2, 2011. Rick Hirata moved into the Freeport home 10 months earlier. When trying to set up gas service in his new home, a Nicor employee issued a hazard warning — citing an uncapped gas line in the kitchen.

Jim Chilsen, a spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board says, “This is a tragedy. If gas utilities are aware that there is a potentially dangerous situation, such as an uncapped gas line, our experience is that they shut off gas service to that home.”

“It’s not cable,” said Tomi Hirata. “We’re talking about gas. This is something that, you know, obviously can kill people.”

In December, shortly before the blast, Nicor returned to the home to install a new meter. The next week, neighbors started complaining about a gas odor and one even called Nicor. A Nicor worker was dispatched to the street and said there was no gas leak in the area. Two days later, Hirata was killed by the gas explosion.

“When this happened, I pretty much broke down,” said Hirata who blames the gas company. “I’ve taken it really hard and I don’t know how I’m going to be if I don’t find a resolution to this.”

She says a medical condition could have made it difficult for her father to smell gas.

Homeowners are responsible for fixing any gas line troubles inside a home, including an uncapped line. It is not known whether Hirata tried to fix it.

A Nicor official declined detailed comment, because the family is pursuing litigation, except to say they deny the allegations and extend their deepest condolences to the family.