Four California Pipeline Blast Victims Recover from Burns in Hospitals

One of the men burned in last week's fuel line explosion often cries out as he dozes under sedation in a hospital bed, his mother said Tuesday.


One of the men burned in last week's fuel line explosion often cries out as he dozes under sedation in a hospital bed, his mother said Tuesday.

Miguel Fuentes, 28, is listed in fair condition at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Pain medication keeps him from being totally lucid, said his mother, Maria Ponce, of Stockton, who has been away for a week from her job as a custodian for the Lodi Unified School District.

"He just wakes up and talks about it and just kind of dozes," Ponce said. Sometimes he calls for help, or talks about running away.

"I kind of say, 'You know who I am?' and he goes, 'Mom.'"

Fuentes is one of four men who remain in hospitals recovering from burns. Five others were killed last week when workers installing a water pipeline in Walnut Creek apparently struck a fuel line, sparking a 60-foot blast of fire and black smoke.

The Contra Costa Coroner's office Tuesday released the names of the last two victims: Victor Rodriguez, 26, of Stockton, and Israel Hernandez, 36, whose address was unknown.

They and a third man killed in the blast, Miguel Reyes, 43, were employees of Matamoros Welding, an Oakley-based firm that was a subcontractor on the project.

Tae Chin Im, 43, of Valley Springs, who died when he stopped to help a colleague, and Javier Ramos, who died of his injuries the day after the explosion, worked for the major contractor, Mountain Cascade.

As the surviving victims recovered from their injuries, a 2-day-old fund to help them has already collected $40,000, an organizer said Tuesday.

Jeremy Knox and Martin Topete are being treated at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. Their conditions were not released Tuesday.

Roger Paasch, 27, was in fair condition at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Fuentes, who has burns on his back and arms, had skin graft surgery last week. The hospital's main concerns are staving off infection and treating the asthma he's had since birth, Ponce said.

"They said he's recovering sooner than they thought," Ponce said. "But still he's not out of danger."

Paasch, a welder who was working with Fuentes that day, has told her some of what happened, she said.

"They ... smelled gas. They just looked at each other and ran," she said. "(Paasch saw) that Miguel was on fire and he was rolling on the floor."

Paasch told his brother, Beau Voss, 22, that he remembers jumping out of the pit and realizing he was on fire. He tore off his burning clothes.

"One of the other Mountain Cascade guys was on fire," Voss said. "(Paasch) went over there and ripped his shirt off."

Paasch left the site to guide in an ambulance. He has second-degree burns on his face, arms, legs, neck and back, but he probably won't need a skin graft, Voss said.

"He says he's having nightmares," Voss said. "Other than that, I think he's just in pain."

Unions, police, firefighters and companies have been pouring money into the fund set up to help the victims' families, said Mark Breslin, executive director of the Engineering and Utility Contractors Association. The victims' employers, Mountain Cascade and Matamoros Welding, are members of the association.