It was a house blast that killed a woman and rocked foundations in Omaha’s Benson neighborhood.

Now, two years later, it’s reverberating through court.

An Omaha couple has sued the Metropolitan Utilities District, saying the Omaha-based utility should have done more to prevent the July 25, 2016, blast that killed property inspector Clara Bender-Rinehart and destroyed at least three houses near 65th and Sprague Streets.

John and Jamie Myers filed the lawsuit last month, alleging that MUD was at fault for the explosion that destroyed the Myerses’ house (next door to the one Bender-Rinehart was inspecting) and trapped one of their three children in the basement.

The couple’s attorney, John Mullen of Omaha, suggested that MUD should have known that gas was leaking and “a dangerous condition existed.”

“The explosion was so great that it totally destroyed (the Myerses’) home and personal property,” the lawsuit says.

An MUD spokeswoman, Jessica Heidebrecht, said the utility will defend itself in court.

“We do not believe (MUD) is responsible for the events in question,” she said.

Omaha police have given a timeline that says gas was leaking at the house for two days.

The Saturday before the Monday explosion, Bender-Rinehart had opened up the house to allow an evicted tenant to get her belongings out. One of the last items the tenant moved: a clothes dryer.

After disconnecting the dryer, the valve on the gas line was not shut off.

The tenant called Bender-Rinehart’s cellphone and left a voicemail saying that her friends had gone back to the house to retrieve a couple of items and had smelled natural gas.

As it turns out, gas seeped through the house for two days. It was unclear whether Bender-Rinehart had listened to the voicemail before she arrived that Monday to inspect the house for Certified Property Management. The Benson house was the fourth house she was inspecting that day.

As she stood in the kitchen, something — authorities aren’t sure if it was a cellphone, static electricity or a light switch — ignited the gas.

The house exploded, killing Bender-Rinehart, destroying two houses on either side of it and damaging more than 20 other houses. Windows blew out of buildings blocks away.

The Myerses’ son, Logan, was in the basement of their house just south of the exploded house. He was trapped “for a substantial time” and suffered physical and mental injuries, the lawsuit says. The Myerses and their children also lost most of their belongings.

Among the allegations, the lawsuit alleges that MUD should have had an automatic shut-off valve on the dryer line and a stronger odor to its gas for easier detection of leaks.

The lawsuit says the Myerses have suffered more than $145,000 in damages.

In such cases, a judge or jury weighs the fault each participant bears. In order to receive a judgment against MUD, the Myerses would have to show that the utility bore more than 50 percent of the blame for the explosion.

In another case, more than 15 lawsuits have been filed against MUD and other defendants after a natural gas leak caused a fire that destroyed M’s Pub and several apartments above. Those lawsuits could go to trial in fall 2019.

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Reporter - Courts

Todd Cooper covers courts, lawyers, trials, legal issues, the justice system and government wrongdoing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @CooperonCourts. Phone: 402-444-1275.

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