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Months after deadly duplex explosion, Franklin woman sues for $25 million

A woman who survived an explosion at a Franklin duplex is suing the building's property management team for $25 million. She claims they knew about a propane smell.

FRANKLIN, Va. — Author's note: The video above is on file from May 1, 2022.

A woman who survived a deadly explosion at a Franklin duplex is suing the building's property management team for $25 million.

The suit goes back to April 15, when a home in the Berkley Court area was seriously damaged in an explosion, shooting up a column of flames and shaking nearby buildings. Two people went to the hospital with critical injuries.

Two weeks after the destruction, resident Michael Wiggins died from his wounds at a hospital.

There wasn't any update about the other person who had been hospitalized by the explosion until Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers filed the lawsuit in Southampton on June 13.

The suit claims that on April 15, Dionne Whitehead was in the duplex unit adjacent to the home that exploded. She was badly burned.

Lawyers say she "has suffered and will continue to suffer great pain of body and mind; has sustained a permanent injury; has suffered and will suffer embarrassment and harm from scars, disfigurement, and deformity," along with other problems.

Part of the request for $25 million stems from the claim that she will have long-term medical bills, and was hurt so badly that she can't earn a living as she did before the explosion.

Attorney Griffin O'Hanlon, one of the lawyers representing Whitehead, said there are reports of Wiggins reporting a propane smell before April 15.

Whitehead's neighbor, Theresa Keys, called the whole ordeal terrifying.   

“To tell you the truth, I’m with her all the way on it. I watched that lady standing right there, and the fireman and another resident coaxed her out of there with the fire over her head. The look on her face was priceless. She was so terrified and so were we," Keys said. “That was the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. In my entire life. So I’m with her. Whatever she can get.” 

The lawsuit claims Whitehead “suffered catastrophic injuries” and “massive burns.”

The lawsuit says the propane hot water system directly caused the explosion -- and that residents had warned property managers about a propane gas smell at the complex. 

The Virginia State Police, which investigated that case to figure out what caused it, said the explosion was caused by a gas leak.

“I’ve talked about a gas smell for years," Keys said. "Put in so many complaints. They always told me, 'Oh no that’s the sewage.' I know the difference between sewage and that egg smell that comes from that. It’s a total difference.” 

Construction crews cleared away the site of the explosion, but nearby homes still show signs of damage. 

Keys said she and many other residents spent six weeks living at a hotel because the apartment complex had no hot water after the explosion. 

Keys told 13News Now her roof and windows are still damaged. Another neighbor has flooding and sewage issues. 

“I’m still afraid to live here, but I was ordered to come back here," Keys said. "It’s a relief, I guess, to be back home, but it’s not a relief to know what can happen again.” 

Franklin resident Audrey Lee said people are frustrated.

“We’re talking about mold, sewage back-up, highly infested with bugs," Lee said. “They have windows that are broken out that have been out since April 15, and something really needs to be done.”  

O'Hanlon said the next steps in the process are to serve the lawsuit to the two defendants, Berkley Court Apartments, L.P. and Severn Management of Virginia, LLC. 

Then, both parties will further investigate, and share documents with each other in a legal discovery phase.


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