San Bruno Blast: Two Years Later, Stories of Lawsuits and Forgiveness

September 9 marks the two-year anniversary of the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion and fire that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. Last year, we talked to five different families who’d been affected, a year after the disaster. For the second anniversary, we spoke to a few of those families to see how they’re faring.

Phil Perserchio and his kids

Phil Perserchio lives on Claremont Drive, about a block up the hill from where the explosion occurred. His house was damaged, but not destroyed. He and his family were home at the time and escaped unharmed.

Perserchio says he’s reminded of the disaster everyday. He returned to his home a few months after the blast, but his wife never came back.

“Literally a week after the explosion, my wife separated from me… and she ended up never coming back to this house again. Now, I’m not saying that’s all because of the fire. But I definitely believe that was a triggering event.”

Perserchio’s home repairs were handled by his insurance company, but he says he never joined any of the lawsuits against PG&E.

“Is there anything that can erase this? You know, I really don’t think there is. No,” he said. “I don’t know what to say, I did not jump into a lawsuit–I know a lot of people did. I know a lot of people a lot further away from me did, who weren’t even there when it happened.”

Perserchio’s kids were 3 and 5 when the blast happened and they remember it well. He says they’re largely un-traumatized, but then “little certain things will happen–you know, you’ll go to Great America and they have some ride down there where fire comes up off the water… We all jumped back and almost kind of started to run.”

He says the kids still ask about the park down the street where they used to play and Perserchio tells them, it melted. He says the kids still ask about the “fire that came into the house.”

But Perserchio doesn’t want to blame or fight PG&E or the insurance company or anyone else.

“Do I really want to be a cranky old dad in front of my kids? What am I going to teach them how to be cranky? Mad at everybody?… You know kids, sometimes bad things happen. It just happens. the rain falls on the just and the unjust. It just happens, you can’t blame anybody. And even if you can, is that the right way?”

The Magoolaghan family

Bill Magoolaghan lived near Perserchio on Claremont Avenue. His wife, Betty, was eight months pregnant with their fourth child when the explosion rocked their home. Betty and the children and ran barefoot from the fireball. The family survived, but their house was irreparably damaged by the blaze and by water from the firefighters. The family recently moved back in to the home they rebuilt in San Bruno.

Magoolaghan is one of about 350 plaintiffs in a consolidated lawsuit against PG&E. He tells KQED’s Tara Siler that he’s leaning toward going to trial because he wants to make sure PG&E is held responsible, and that his kids bills are covered if they need long-term therapy.

“PG&E says that they lost their way, so we want to make sure it’s not possible for them to lose their way again. Because what happened to us and what happened to our neighborhood and our neighbors should never have to happen to anybody else. We’ve had to live through this nightmare.”

Magoolaghan says the family is healing, and that being back in the neighborhood is a blessing and a challenge.

“Everybody else is rebuilding and they’re tearing up the streets, replacing different pipelines. So there’s a lot of dirt and dust and noise in our neighborhood,” he says. But it’s also nice to be home. It’s nice to be with our neighbors. It’s nice to be part of the community and go to the restaurants we’ve always gone to.”

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  • rosiedale

    These people are so brave! I think it’s clear that PG&E has lost their way. The millions of dollars every year they spend to buy our politicians, elections, and the rules they want to play by could go a long way towards making sure this never happens again.

    That they can use their money to set their own rules is WRONG and has the potential to put so many more in DANGER! We need to get them out of politics and make safety their priority again!

    • http://twitter.com/Janaep5 Janae Price

      I think it’s worse than that Rosie. It shows that there is a total disregard for human lives. Money over HUMANITy, since when does the world operate in such a way? It’s truly sad.

  • http://twitter.com/MarkWmSnyder Mark Snyder

    I agree with Magoolaghan. I am not typically a litigious person but after 2 years PG&E needs to give these people the closure they need. 8 people died, houses were destroyed. I can only imagine the post traumatic stress these poor kids have. Why hasn’t PG&E been held accountable? Why are the families’ private insurance policies handling the homes and loses? Why not PG&E? This isn’t an act of God. This is an act of neglect! I wonder who is protecting PG&E? I just fear which neighborhood is next!

  • http://www.facebook.com/osahon Osahon Ekhator

    This is a true tragedy, and a great example of why we need to remove
    special interests from government. They simply wield too much influence,
    and this time it cost lives. My prayers go out to the families of the
    victims. PG&E has spent millions of dollars on politics and has
    spent 1.2 million this year already. They’ve shifted the attention of
    our politicians to them. That just isn’t acceptable.

  • http://twitter.com/Janaep5 Janae Price

    PG&E has gotten away with murder. My prayers go out to
    all of the families that have lost their loved ones. People deserve better than
    this, where is the accountability? This isn’t right. The government should
    start listening to voters rather than donors. Special interest money should not
    have a voice in policy decisions because when they do others suffer. Things
    have to change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jordan-Magill/763029119 Jordan Magill

    Seriously, people died. Who is responsible? If I kill someone, I go to jail. Deep pocketed corporations kill 8 and the state doesn’t do a thing. So long as Special Interest money infects our politics, we’ll never get
    the reform we need. How can we trust pols beholden to PG&E and
    there deep pockets to make the right choices for us as Californians?
    What we need is reform to get all this filthy Special Interest money out
    of our politics so the politicians can make OUR health and welfare
    there ONLY priority.

  • Jordan McCroskey

    This was indeed a terrible tragedy, and could have been avoided if PG&E did not place its profits ahead of people’s safety. They dump millions of dollars into Sacramento to ensure policies will be favorable to THEIR interests, not favorable to the safety and concerns of the people. We NEED to rid Sacramento of this type of special interest money if we ever want to see politicians working for US again.

  • Jordan Macadrey

    PG&E is a for-profit entity providing a service everyone expects, wants, needs, and uses. Their share price has taken a hit and they’ve expended much more to help “victims” of the tragedy. At what point is retribution against the “corporation” enough? When gas and electricity prices go up for EVERYONE, San Bruno is partly to blame because the corporation needs to recuperate everything they’ve lost. The explosion was certainly tragic, regardless.

    Magoolaghan is the main proponent for suing PG&E. He has become the face of the disaster, and that includes the faces of his scarred, bare-footed children. I’d think if he wanted to get the incident past him and his family, he would stay out of the spotlight and stay away from every event celebrating the rebuilding of his neighborhood and bashing of PG&E.

    Phil Perserchio has been one of the few who have had a realistic, non-combative, non-litigious attitudes. He “suffered” the same as his neighbors, yet has had his home rebuilt all the same without coming down hard on anyone else.

    No one has ever heard of San Bruno before this incident, and now those who want their 15 minutes of fame has received it and more. Next time my neighborhood falls apart, I’ll have to follow the steps laid out and jump on the bandwagon and ride on the coattails of those who died. How much more of the same do we need to hear from Magoolaghan and his ilk? “PG&E says they lost their way”…from what? They provide a service everyone needs and profits on it. A 50 year old pipeline exploding is tragic, but not necessarily unavoidable. The Bay Bridge might collapse in the next earthquake, and it’ll be followed by thousands of lawsuits from those whose days are ruined. The economy has been tough. It’s hard to see people are are taking advantage of the situation to profit off it.

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