Omaha, NE – As natural gas filled a Benson home for two days, a voicemail waited on Clara Bender-Rineharts work cellphone alerting her to the potential danger.
Her relatives and friends may never know whether she heard that message.
The property inspector was killed midday Monday when the gas ignited, exploding as she stood in the kitchen. Officials have concluded that her death was the result of an accident.
Natural gas leaking from the gas line of a disconnected clothes dryer was the cause of the blast that occurred about 12:15 p.m. Monday, Omaha fire officials announced Wednesday.
The explosion leveled the home at 3858 N. 65th St. and caused severe damage to others.
Bender-Rinehart, 30, an employee of Certified Property Management, had been inspecting her fourth home Monday.
The Omaha Fire Department completed its investigation Wednesday and released a time line that started with an evicted tenant moving out and ended with the explosion.
On Saturday, Kiwana Toussaint moved out of the house with help from friends, fire officials said in a press release. A clothes dryer was one of the last items removed, investigators said.
The dryer was disconnected from the gas line, but the gas line was not shut off, allowing gas to leak into the home.
Later Saturday, two friends of Toussaints went back to the home to grab a couple of items and told Toussaint that they had smelled natural gas.
Toussaint then left a voicemail on Bender-Rineharts work cellphone late Saturday, but investigators dont know if Bender-Rinehart heard it.
Fire investigators found Bender-Rineharts phone and Omaha police listened to Toussaints voicemail, said Fire Battalion Chief Tim McCaw.
Chief Deputy Douglas County Attorney Brenda Beadle said that because authorities ruled the explosion to be an accident, no charges would be filed.
Mark McDonald, president of NatGas Consulting in Boston, which investigates natural gas explosions, said those removing the dryer most likely would have known the gas was leaking.
Once you disconnect the gas line, youre going to know it, McDonald said. Its going to smell, its going to make a hissing sound.
McDonald is not directly involved in the investigation and offered analysis based on dozens of gas explosion cases his company has investigated.
He said residents should hire a licensed professional to handle appliances connected to gas lines and install a methane detector that would sound even with small amounts of natural gas present.
Likewise, Bender-Rinehart ought to have been able to smell the gas, he said. The air should still have smelled of natural gas if the gas was odorized properly.
The gas would have reached an explosive level, McDonald said.
Omaha fire officials couldnt pinpoint the exact ignition source, but McDonald said it could be anything a cellphone call, light switch, static electricity or something else.
He said residents should always call the utility company any time they smell gas.
Metropolitan Utilities District officials could have prevented the explosion even if they had been notified Monday, after two days of natural gas leaking, McDonald said, although it would have been difficult.
You basically have a bomb sitting there, he said.
Jeremy Aspen, the president of the management company, said he and another co-worker are sure that Bender-Rinehart knew to call MUD if she smelled gas.
Instructions to leave the property and then call MUD if people smell gas are on the maintenance work order, inspection sheet and property lease, Aspen said.
He said there have been gas problems at properties in the past and that those problems were handled correctly.
Aspen said it would have been preferable if Toussaints call to Bender-Rineharts work cellphone had instead gone through the companys customer service line. That way a call log would have been established and a customer service representative would have handed off the call to MUD.
Aspen believes Bender-Rinehart gave out her personal work number to Toussaint as a way of expediting the process.
Toussaint couldnt be reached for comment Wednesday night.
She was evicted June 22, and Bender-Rinehart unlocked the home Saturday so Toussaint could gather her things.
Toussaint rented the house June 15, 2015, signing a lease for $825 a month, according to Douglas County Court records. She started missing rent payments in December, according to eviction notices filed by Certified Property Management.
The company filed notices in February, citing $2,001 owed; in April, citing $921 owed; and on June 1, citing $623 owed.