SUN PRAIRIE — There will be no criminal charges against anyone related to an explosion in Sun Prairie that killed a firefighter and leveled several buildings, the police chief announced Thursday, Dec. 20.
"There was not probable cause to believe that a crime was committed," said Sun Prairie Police Chief Patrick Anhalt.
The July 10 blast in downtown Sun Prairie happened after a subcontractor installing fiber communication lines struck a gas main and the gas ignited about 40 minutes later.
At a news conference, the city's police chief, Patrick Anhalt, said companies working on the project exchanged and relied upon "incomplete and inaccurate information" and that law enforcement officials, including the county district attorney and state attorney general's office, agreed that criminal charges weren't warranted.
"VT Tech proceeded with the fiber installation project, and while engaged in underground directional boring, cut through a We Energies gas line," said Chief Anhalt.
The chief blamed the accident on "miscommunication" but didn't explain what exactly happened. Anhalt didn't take questions but did make public a redacted copy of the investigation report. He said investigators conducted 67 interviews and examined 45 pieces of evidence and 400 pages of documents during their five-month probe.
"We have determined that the intersection, including the specific location where the gas line was struck was not completely marked. This error appears to be the result of miscommunication between USIC, Bear Communications, Jet Underground and VC Tech," said Chief Anhalt.
The explosion killed Sun Prairie firefighter Cory Barr and injured 11 other people, including five other firefighters and a police officer. It also destroyed a home and six businesses, including a bar that Barr and his wife owned called the Barr House.
Firefighters and police evacuated dozens of people before the gas ignited.
"We do know that about 250 people were evacuated from the immediate area prior to the explosion," said Chief Anhalt.
Barr wasn't on duty when the blast occurred, but family members said he felt compelled to help evacuate and secure his business. He and another firefighter had just left the Barr House when the explosion destroyed the building.
The search warrant request showed that investigators were looking for evidence to support a second-degree reckless homicide charge in the case.
Anhalt said Verizon Wireless contracted with Bear Communications for the fiber optic installation project. Bear Communications first subcontracted with Jet Underground, but then changed subcontractors to VC Tech, Anhalt said.
Anhalt said he plans to work alongside state leaders to pursue regulatory mandates to make sure utility work is conducted in the safest manner possible.
Below is dashcam video that shows the explosion as it happened. Viewer discretion is advised: