The families of two workers killed in a 2016 Shelby County pipeline explosion and another worker injured in the explosion have filed suits in recent weeks against the pipe’s owner. 

Anthony Willingham, of Heflin, and Bill Whatley, of Raleigh, Miss., died as a result of an explosion on Oct. 31, 2016, in Shelby County, near the Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area. Hugh Delaughder Jr., of Heflin, survived with injuries. They were among several workers employed by L.E. Bell Construction in Heflin who were injured when a track hoe struck a gas pipe owned by Colonial Pipeline, based in Alpharetta, Ga., while digging to find and repair the source of a leak discovered the month before. 

Willingham’s estate filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the company, alleging that negligence on the part of Colonial and a third-party inspection service, Superior Land Designs, also in Alpharetta, led to the explosion, naming both as defendants. 

The complaint states that workers were digging to find threaded O-ring fittings, which allow access to the pipe interior and extend several inches above the main line, when the track hoe hit the line, causing a fuel rupture that caught fire moments later. 

The suit alleges that Colonial Pipeline “had a duty to ensure that its pipeline was safe for excavation” and that Superior Land Designs shared that duty as third-party inspector. Delaughder and Whatley’s estate also issued a similarly written complaint in June, naming both companies as defendants.

The cases didn’t appear to be tied together, judging from filings in the federal court system’s electronic public records systems. 

Attempts to reach Michael Andrews, a Montgomery attorney representing Willingham’s estate, were unsuccessful Friday, as were attempts to reach Glenda Cochran, a Birmingham attorney representing Delaughder and Whatley’s estate.

Kevin Feeney, senior communications director for Colonial Pipeline, wrote in an email Friday that the company was aware of the lawsuit and disputes the allegations, but was unable to say much more on the subject due to an ongoing federal investigation. 

“Colonial remains committed to transporting refined energy products safely and reliably,” Feeny wrote. “Through our safety program we establish and maintain strategic partnerships with our contractors to complete work in a manner that protects people, communities and the environment where our facilities and pipelines are located.”

He added that the company has an extensive program to monitor and maintain its pipeline system, including the use of technology, and a public awareness program that shares safe excavation practices. 

Colonial’s pipeline is part of 5,500 miles of pipe running from Houston, Texas, to Linden, N.J., through which Colonial pumps more than 100 million gallons of fuel per day, according to the company website. 

The leak found in September 2016 resulted in more than 300,000 gallons of lost gasoline. In 2018 the company settled with the state for $3.3 million over environmental claims. Last month, the company sued Birmingham-based Ceco Pipeline Services, alleging that the company caused the crack leading to the leak. 

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560. 

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