State officials say cause of propane tank explosion that killed four is ‘undetermined.’ Lawsuit against gas company moves forward.

Published 9:32 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Mississippi State Fire Marshal’s Office has ruled that the cause of a propane explosion that killed four people in January as “undetermined.” 

The Mississippi State Fire Marshal’s Office stated on Tuesday that they had completed their investigation of the fatal incident that occurred in Copiah County in January 2024. 

“The Copiah County explosion is ruled to be ‘undetermined,’ and our investigation is complete,” the State Fire Marshal’s Office stated. “It will more than likely become a civil case.” 

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SFMO states undetermined means an exact cause of the fire or explosion could not be determined because of the extent of damage. 

Loyd Star Attendance Center student and football player Toler Jordan, 14, died along with his cousin Houston “Bubba,” Jordan, 18, who was a 2023 graduate of the Reading Nook Academy and a Brookhaven Academy football player. Calvin “Benjy,” Jordan was Bubba’s father and Toler’s uncle. He was 43 years old and his friend Jeremy Mitchell, 52, died a few days after the explosion from injuries he sustained. 

Attorney Ben Wilson with Morgan and Morgan said he was not surprised by the State Fire Marshal’s Office ruling the cause of a fatal explosion in Copiah County as undetermined. In fact, the attorney expected it.

Wilson said often fire investigations, barring anything completely obvious, are left as undetermined by the state. The SFMO released reports on three local fire investigations Tuesday. All were ruled as undetermined. 

“They realize in some situations we will have an independent investigation to get into the weeds and really dig down into this,” Wilson said. “For a civil case, we know we will have to go a little bit deeper than what the state is looking at. At the end of the day, it is important everyone understands the undetermined classification. What the State Fire Marshal Office is charged with in those cases, their primary objective, is to determine if there was a criminal element to this not if there was negligence. They are looking at criminal intent. It is a tragic incident.” 

Litigation aftermath 

A lawsuit was filed against Hering Gas Company following the propane explosion due to a belief the tank was “improperly inspected.” The Daily Leader reported the propane tank was filled on Saturday night around 7 p.m. and the explosion occurred Sunday at 2 p.m. When the accident happened, the three Jordans were outside with another man — identified by Mercier as Jeremy Mitchell — and four women were inside the home. They were Benjy’s wife Mitzi, their daughter Maggie, Mitchell’s wife, and another woman.

The suit contends that Herring Gas and its employees were directly responsible for the explosion and therefore should be accountable for its consequences.  

Wilson said the lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court. He said from their case standpoint, he doesn’t believe there is any argument about the origin. The conclusion of the investigation by the state allowed for Wilson to obtain the propane cylinder where it will be sent to Atlanta to be examined by experts. 

“We are going through all of the steps necessary,” Wilson said. “To get to this stage, we had to ask the court to provide us an order allowing the state to release evidence to us. We went through the process.” 

He explained there is currently discussion about the case being prosecuted as a criminal case by the District Attorney. At this time, the DA’s office has not taken the case but the prosecution will share evidence and findings with the DA’s office, Wilson said. 

A trial date for the civil case has been set about 11 months from now. Wilson said the trial date is March 11, 2025 for the civil case against Herring.