Claims Adjuster Charged With Stealing $28K, IDs of Victims of Massachusetts Gas Explosion

October 4, 2022

A claims adjuster working for Columbia Gas has been indicted in connection with stealing more than $28,000 and the identities of four victims of a 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced.

Lashaunda Studaway, of Jackson, Mississippi, was arraigned in Essex Superior Court on four charges of identity fraud and two counts of larceny over $1,200. She is due back in court on December 16 for a pre-trial hearing.

Between October 2018 and December 2018, Studaway was responsible for handling the financial claims from residents impacted by the September 2018 gas explosions in the Columbia Gas system in the city of Lawrence and the towns of Andover and North Andover. One person was killed and 22 individuals, including 10 firefighters, were injured in the blast and fires. More than 131 structures were damaged and at least five homes were destroyed.

The AG’s Office alleges that Studaway stole $28,971 and the identities of four claimants by dispersing pre-paid debit cards – that were supposed to go to claimants – to herself. Studaway would either submit false claims under a real claimant’s file or create a file using a fictitious person’s name, according to the indictment..

Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of NiSource, Inc., took responsibility for the explosion and damage. It made voluntary restitution payments to the victims of the incident, and agreed to seek to resolve all pending civil claims. It also paid a fine of $53 million to the Department of Justice after pleading guilty to violating a minimum safety standard of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that over-pressurization led to the explosion and fires. This was likely the fault of the gas company’s “weak engineering management that did not adequately plan, review, sequence, and oversee the construction project.” Contributing to the accident was a low-pressure natural gas distribution system designed and operated without adequate overpressure protection, according to the NTSB.

Photo: In this image take from video provided by WCVB in Boston, firefighters battle a large structure fire in Lawrence, Mass, a suburb of Boston, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Emergency crews responded to what they believe was a series of gas explosions that damaged homes across three communities north of Boston. (WCVB via AP)

Topics Claims Fraud Massachusetts

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