Image: Tow truck in crater
Peter Foley  /  EPA
The tow truck fell into a crater created by a pipe bursting and was engulfed in the geyser of 200-degree steam, mud and asbestos.
updated 8/8/2007 6:58:01 PM ET 2007-08-08T22:58:01

A tow-truck driver and his passenger burned when a huge steam-pipe explosion blew a crater in a Manhattan street last month have sued the city’s utility provider, accusing it of misconduct.

Passenger Judith Bailey and a guardian for driver Gregory McCullough seek unspecified damages from Consolidated Edison in the lawsuits filed Tuesday in State Supreme Court.

The victims accused Con Edison of failing to “properly operate and maintain its steam system,” thereby creating a “ticking time bomb.” More than 12 such pipes have exploded since 1987, including one that killed three people in 1989 and released 200 pounds of asbestos into the air, the plaintiffs claim.

The lawsuits came the same day the utility said an earlier shoddy repair job on the pipeline didn’t cause the explosion. Inspections suggested the explosion was spontaneous, utility officials said.

About 40 people were injured, and one woman died of a heart attack as a result of the blast.

McCullough, 21, and Bailey, 30, were in his truck when the pipe burst near Grand Central Terminal on July 18, making the ground give way beneath them and creating a wide sinkhole. McCullough was taking Bailey home after towing her car to a repair shop.

The truck fell into the crater and was engulfed in the geyser of 200-degree steam, mud and asbestos that soared stories into the air, sending people fleeing and rattling New Yorkers’ nerves.

'I thank God'
McCullough has been placed in a medically induced coma to control his pain and has undergone surgery to remove dead skin. He suffered third-degree burns to more than 80 percent of his body.

Bailey, a single mother with two daughters, suffered burns to more than 30 percent of her body. She was released from a hospital Wednesday.

“I thank God that I’m alive today,” Bailey said as she wheeled out of New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center, bandages on her legs.

Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert said the utility does not comment on pending litigation.

Con Edison has hired an engineering firm specializing in analyzing structure failures to investigate the blast. The work is expected to take at least three months. State utility regulators are conducting a separate investigation.

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