Judge rules in utility’s favor in deadly Indiana explosion

EVANSVILLE — A judge has ruled in favor of a utility in a lawsuit filed over a 2017 natural gas explosion in southwestern Indiana that killed two women and injured three other people.

A Vanderburgh County judge granted CenterPoint’s motion for summary judgment on Tuesday in the civil lawsuit.

The judge found that the plaintiffs failed to produce evidence the utility was negligent and that their negligence directly resulted in the two victims’ deaths and injuries to three others, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

The June 2017 explosion leveled a house in Evansville, killed Sharon Mand and Kathleen Woolems and wounded a man, a woman and her 10-year-old son.

The three surviving victims and representatives of Mand and Woolems’ estates alleged in their 2019 complaint that the utility, then known as Vectren, was negligent by failing to properly inspect gas lines and warn occupants of a leak. Two of the plaintiffs later withdrew their claims.

CenterPoint filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging there was no basis for the lawsuit.

Indiana court nixes Land Rover seizure over $400 drug deal

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana man whose Land Rover worth $35,000 was seized after his conviction for selling $400 worth of heroin will get to keep the vehicle more than two years after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with him for a key ruling on criminal fines.

The court’s 4-1 decision in favor of Tyson Timbs of Marion comes after a legal fight that began in 2013 and resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on excessive fines applies to states as well as the federal government.

Indiana’s high court rejected arguments from the state attorney general’s office that the vehicle seizure was proper because it was used in commission of a crime.

“We conclude that, under the totality of the circumstances, the harshness of the Land Rover’s forfeiture was grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the underlying dealing offense,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote in the majority opinion.

Timbs bought the Land Rover with some of the life insurance money he received after his father died. His attorneys argued that the loss of the vehicle hurt his ability to hold a job after completing drug treatment programs.

Department of Natural Resources director Comer dies

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Department of Natural Resources Director Carol Comer has died, state officials said Wednesday.

The cause of death was not released. Comer announced in July 2019 that she had undergone two unsuccessful surgeries and was beginning chemotherapy to fight cancer.

Comer, an environmental lawyer, was named director of the department in January 2017 by former Gov. Eric Greitens. Before her appointment, she was commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The DNR said in a news release that officials “plan to carry out her vision for the agency moving forward.”

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson praised Comer as an accomplished leader who will be deeply missed by his cabinet.

“She was a dedicated public servant who loved this state, its people, and the great outdoors,” Parson said in a statement. “We could not have asked for a better advocate for Missouri’s natural resources. Teresa and I will keep Carol’s loved ones in our prayers as we mourn the loss of this extraordinary individual.”

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