4 Marines File Lawsuit Over Gas Explosion That Left Them Badly Burned


Tagen Schmidt, a Marine corporal who was critically burned when an amphibious assault vehicle he was riding in burst into flames after hitting a gas line at Camp Pendleton, is among four Marines who have filed a lawsuit against multiple utility companies and contractors claiming negligence.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court, claims the defendants “failed to exercise reasonable and ordinary care which resulted in serious physical and emotional injuries to Marines at Camp Pendleton.”

It was filed on behalf of Schmidt, Cpl. Anthony Romero, Lance Cpl. Samuel Koontz, and Lance Cpl. Nicholas Amrien and names San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Gas Company, San Diego Pipeline Company of San Diego and unnamed gas line installation contractors as defendants.

“We are aware of a gas incident that occurred at Camp Pendleton in Sept. 2017,” said Joe Britton, a spokesman for SDG&E.; “We investigated and determined that an SDG&E; gas line was not involved.”

Britton said he could not comment further on pending litigation.

The incident occurred Sept. 13, 2017 after the tracked, armored vehicle became stuck and ruptured a four-inch natural gas line. According to Schmidt and his parents, Tamby Clawson and Chad Schmidt, who spoke with the Orange County Register shorty after the incident, the vehicle slipped. In all, 14 Marines and a sailor were injured.

“As it rocked back and forth to get it unstuck, it cut through the gas line,” Clawson said. “Gas began spewing out and was coming into parts of the vehicle. The boys in the back all smelled the gas.” That’s when there was an explosion and flames erupted, fueled by the continuous flow of gas, she said, recounting her son’s story.

Attorneys for the four Marines say in the lawsuit that the AAV moved into a ditch where it contacted an exposed and poorly marked natural gas line. The lawsuit cites a Marine Corps report that details efforts by the Marines to get the AAV unstuck by rocking it in the ditch.

“The maneuver required the AAV’s engine to rev to high RPMs,” the lawsuit states. “Per the report, none of the witnesses recalled seeing the grey natural gas line in the ditch, or any warning of its presence, prior to the explosion.”

The AAV backfired, triggering a large explosion that soon engulfed it in flames, the lawsuit states.

All of the Marines involved in the incident were wearing Marine Utility Uniforms, including gloves and eye protection. Nevertheless, according to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs and others in the AAV sustained second- and third-degree burns to their faces, hands and other parts of their bodies.

In December, the Marine Corps released a report on its investigation, citing the ruptured gas line as the cause of the AAV explosion.

The report said the natural gas line was painted gray and blended with the ground. It also indicated that training officials did not know a truck had previously struck the gas line three months earlier. The investigation determined the ground around the gas line had eroded and hazard signs nearby were faded and weathered.

The lawsuit alleges negligence and liability in the accident and says the defendants failed to meet basic safety standards and failed to conform to the “natural gas requirements” for Camp Pendleton.

Among those requirements, the lawsuit states, is that pipes should be buried a minimum of 36 inches below finished grade or as recommended by the manufacturer, whichever is greater. The buried pipeline should include warning tape and there should be proper labeling above the pipeline.

“The companies involved clearly knew about the very real danger of allowing gas lines to be exposed in an area where Marines are training,” says Timothy A. Loranger, a Marine Corps veteran and attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Failing to take reasonable steps to comply with the rules and keep those lines properly buried resulted in our clients’ very serious burn injuries that have effectively ended military careers and changed lives forever. Our Marines deserve better.”

The lawsuit asks for compensation for all past and future medical expenses, past and future loss of earnings, economic loss and compensation for fright, anxiety and worry.


©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested on Jan. 29, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Wilmington Police Department, North Carolina.)

A special operations Marine is due in court on March 7 after being arrested last year for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, Task & Purpose has learned.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested and charged with assault inflicting serious injury on July 29, 2018, according to Jennifer Dandron, a spokeswoman for police in Wilmington, North Carolina. Evans is currently assigned as a Critical Skills Operator with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, according to the Marine Corps Personnel Locator.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy conducts a call-for-fire during an artillery shoot south of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2014. Medvigy, a fire support officer assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's Company D, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, is the first female company fire support officer to serve in an infantry brigade combat team supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston (Photo by U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

Following Trump's inauguration, some supporters of ground combat integration assumed he would quickly move to reinstate a ban on women in jobs like the infantry. When this did not happen, advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief, and hundreds of qualified women charted a course in history by entering the newly opened occupational fields.

So earlier this week when the Wall Street Journal published an editorial against women in ground combat by conservative political commentator Heather Mac Donald, the inclination of many ground combat integration supporters was to dismiss it outright. But given Trump's proclivity to make knee jerk policy decisions in response to falling approval ratings and the court's tradition of deference to the military when it comes to policies affecting good order and discipline, it would be unwise to assume the 2016 lifting of the ban on women in ground combat is a done deal.

Read More Show Less

R. Lee Ermey was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.

Best known for his iconic role as the Marine Corps drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in the war drama Full Metal Jacket, Ermey died April 15, 2018 at age 74 due to complications from pneumonia, Task & Purpose previously reported.

Read More Show Less
A B-2 Spirit bomber deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and F-22 Raptors from the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Wing fly near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, during a interoperability training mission Jan. 15, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Russ Scalf)

The U.S. Air Force has two of its most elite aircraft — the B-2 Spirit bomber and the F-22 Raptor — training together in the Pacific, reassuring America's allies and sending a warning to strategic competitors and adversaries about the sheer power the U.S. brings to the table.

These stunning photos show the powerful aircraft tearing across the Pacific, where the U.S. has increasingly found itself facing challenges from a rising China.

Read More Show Less