Archive for Thursday, November 27, 1997


November 27, 1997


It may take days or weeks to determine the cause of an explosion at the Lawrence KPL plant earlier this week.

Officials said the cause of an explosion in or near a malfunctioning circuit breaker at the Lawrence Energy Center remained unknown Wednesday, two days after the blast killed a man and injured two others.

Meanwhile, the two injured men remained in critical condition at an area hospital Wednesday night.

"They still don't know anything yet, and I don't know that they will until after the holiday," said Paul Lira, assistant manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 304.

"It's still under investigation," said Robin Lampe, spokeswoman for KPL, which operates the energy center.

The explosion occurred about 4:45 p.m. Monday while employees were conducting maintenance on a 4,160-volt breaker.

Lira said the blast was similar to a large lightning bolt. It occurred either through the breaker itself or from the breaker to the ground, he said.

Officials were investigating what caused the blast and why there was current present.

The circuit breaker was supplied by ABB Services. Company spokesman Mike DeCocco said the breaker had not been working properly for some time. But he did not know how long the problem had lasted, and he said the company is investigating.

Duane Tenpenny, 48, Topeka, died in the blast.

Two other men, Ron Guy, 57, Lawrence, and Charles Price, 35, North Kansas City, Mo., suffered third-degree burns on 90 percent of their bodies.

They remained in critical condition in the burn unit at the Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan., where they were taken by helicopter.

Price is ABB's service manager for the Kansas City area.

Jim Owen, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington D.C.-based trade association for investor-owned electric utilities, said accidents such as Monday's are unusual.

"It's a pretty unusual occurrence," he said. "I haven't heard of many other incidents like it."

Dale Rummer, Kansas University professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer science, said it may take weeks or even months to determine a cause.

"I know that many cases that I've worked, it takes months not days," said Rummer, who has been consulted to determine the causes of electrical fires.

"It's a matter of taking a set of facts that you're presented with, and how can you explain what happened, in terms of the facts you have -- that is not always easy."

Often, he said, evidence is destroyed.

"It's not necessarily easy to pinpoint the cause."

-- Mike Dekker's phone message number is 832-7187. His e-mail address is

Commenting has been disabled for this item.