Tarentum building owner charged with Felony for Risking Catastrophe from gas leak

Tarentum, Pa. – Police investigations into a gas leak in West Tarentum on November 4th has resulted in the building owner being charged with Risking Catastrophe after Tarentum firefighters were dispatched for a strong odor of gas inside a structure at 201 West 7th Avenue.

© Image Copyright | Photojournalist |Paul R. Lowes | AKVNEWS.COM

According to the police criminal complaint, Tarentum Law Enforcement Officer Chris Fabec arrived on scene and observed a strong odor of natural gas coming from the building. Officer Fabec said he heard gas leaking from an outside meter and was able to turn it off with a wrench. Officer Fabec went to the side of the building and noticed a gas line on the ground. Police were able to notice both red valves were completely open and the odor of natural gas from inside the building was very strong. Doors inside the building were secure preventing police to get to other parts of the structure. It was unclear to police if the structure was occupied.

Police were able to make contact with a former tenant who stated that the gas line was secured and in the proper state of repair. However, today when he had shown up, the line was on the ground and also stated that the gas lines were completely open and he could hear gas hissing. The former tenant also stated as soon as he opened the door, he noticed the strong over of natural gas and called 911.

The building owner, identified as Richard Burk, age 66 of Valencia arrived on scene and was asked if he had been at the building today to which he responded, yes. Burk stated he left the building around 1 p.m. and did not smell any gas. Berk told police he took pictures of the property and that the gas line was hanging and intact. Berk told police the only tenant was evicted last week.

Further investigation revealed a nearby club has cameras that view the building in question. It was observed that Mr. Berk was the only person in and out of the building. It was also learned that Burk left the property at 2:30 pm and not at 1:00 pm as previously stated. Police say video evidence shows the former tenant never entered the building. Video shows the former tenant opened the door, took a step into the doorway and then called 911 while remaining on camera view the entire time.

© Image Copyright | Photojournalist |Paul R. Lowes | AKVNEWS.COM

Police say Burk was the only one in the structure during the times that the gas lines were open. Burk was detained and transported back to the police station. During questioning of Berk, it was learned that no one else was inside the building at any time on Saturday, November 4.

Burk told police that he has no tenants and also stated that he locked all doors to the rest of the building. Berk stated that there was no way to get into the room where the leak was unless you went through the side door which is in constant camera view.

Burk stated that he did not smell natural gas when he was there and that he has worked with natural gas his entire life. Burk stated that the line was held up with zip ties and he does not know how it would have broken.

Burk advised that he took pictures of the lines intact before he left the building. He was asked why he would take pictures to which he responded – you never know. Burk told police if he opened them, (the gas lines) then he was not in the right state of mind.

Burk charges: F3 CAUSING OR RISKING CATASTROPHE and M2 RECKLESSLY ENDANGERING ANOTHER PERSON. A preliminary is scheduled before the Honorable Magisterial District Judge Carolyn S. Bengel on January 17th @ 1:00 pm. Burk is free on bond.

No injuries were reported in the incident. Tarentum firefighters utilized natural ventilation and fans to clear the structure of gas fumes.