Friend: PS Splicing president stable, surviving after Durham gas explosion

April 15, 2019

A communications manager who does the same kind of line work being done in Durham last week before a gas blast said his colleague Don Smith is recovering from the injuries he suffered when the Prescient Building exploded.

Jeff Hummel, who lives in Missouri, has worked with Smith’s PS Splicing and subcontracted work to him. He told WRAL News that the work was more difficult than it appears, and that it is a miracle Smith survived.

“People just think that because you work in telecommunications that you’ve got an easy job or something like that. We live and work in a very hostile work environment. There’s a lot of unknown factors in what we do,” Hummel said.

Smith is the owner of the company that reported the gas line cut. The NC811 app, which shows information about digging projects to prevent conflicts and accidents, shows that PS Slicing reported damage on North Duke Street at 9:28 a.m., 10 minutes before the 911 call was made to report that a gas line had been hit. By law, a contractor who causes line damage is required to report it to 811.

He was among the more than two dozen people injured when the gas exploded, and he is being treated at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals.

“I know that he came out of surgery, and he’s stable at the moment, and he’s still alive,” Hummel said. “It’s a miracle that Don is surviving through this so far.”

Hummel is among those wondering what went wrong to cause the line to be cut and to ignite, but he has confidence in his friend.

“He’s more thorough and complete in what he does than to have an accident like this occur on his watch,” Hummel said of Smith.

The owner of Kaffeinate, a coffee shop located on the bottom level of the Prescient Building at 115 N. Duke St., was inside and died when the building exploded at 10:07 a.m. The building was a total loss, and more than a dozen surrounding buildings were also damaged.

At least 25 people were injured in the explosion, including nine firefighters.

“It’s a tragedy regardless of whatever happened,” Hummel said. “Someone lost their life – an innocent person that had nothing to do with it. Regardless of what the outcome is, or the Saturday morning quarterbacks, it’s a tragedy.”

Dominion Energy on Monday identified another one of the injured as Jay Rambeaut, and asked for privacy for his family.

“We are thankful that the Triangle is home to best-in-class medical professionals who are providing care to one of our own, and we are committed to supporting his family through his recovery,” the company said in a statement.