The family of a Fresno County employee who was driving a front-end loader April 17 when a natural gas pipeline exploded released a statement Thursday saying he was unaware of any danger.
The statement, obtained by The Bee from a Millbrae-based law firm representing the family, says Ismael Arreazola has been a county employee for 13 years. (Previous stories spelled his last name as Areazola.) He was driving the machine for the public works department when a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pipeline ruptured beneath him.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti previously said Arreazola was tasked with moving dirt into a mound behind targets at the Fresno County Sheriff’s Foundation gun range to keep bullets in. PG&E and Fresno County officials said the line was clearly marked when Arreazola apparently nicked it, sparking the fiery blast, although Sheriff Margaret Mims said Arreazola was not digging the day the blast occurred.
The explosion and fire injured 13 people, including two deputies and members of an inmate work crew. Sheriff Margaret Mims said the inmate crew was building up berms and doing other maintenance. Deputies saw the loader on a road behind the berms just before the explosion. Mims said the driver had not been digging but was smoothing out dirt.
Arreazola suffered burns to at least 40% of his body, the statement says. Despite the burns, he walked to an ambulance, which transported him to Community Regional Medical Center where he remains in critical condition.
“Mr. Arreazola followed the instructions of his employer during his work day, which involved redistributing soil with no excavation,” the statement says. “He was unaware of any danger related to the PG&E underground pipe.”
Seven people remain hospitalized at Community Regional after the explosion, many Fresno County Jail inmates.
An attorney for one of the injured inmates filed a legal complaint Wednesday against PG&E in Fresno County Superior Court and a claim for damages against Fresno County.
The explosion remains under investigation by California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office and Fresno Fire Department.