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Victim in August 2021 Chandler printing shop explosion shares story

'I don’t know how we all walked out'
ChandlerExplosion.jpg
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-22 00:16:34-05

CHANDLER, AZ — Four men are still on the long road to recovery after a gas leak led a Chandler shopping plaza to explode.

The blast happened on August 26 near Ray and Rural roads.

Platinum Printing had the roof blown off while the two owners and general manager worked inside, unaware that natural gas had been seeping into their building.

Now, four months after the explosion and for the first time, one of those men is sharing what it was like to be inside that building, and the months of hardship that have followed.

The Thursday started like any other for Parker Milldebrandt.

The 29-year-old Cardinals fan said goodbye to his wife and drove into work at Platinum Printing.

"I was the general manager. So, I kind of ran part of the print floor, helped customers out, [and] just got the work done," said Milldebrandt.

"Did you like it?" asked ABC15.

"Loved it," replied Milldebrandt.

Milldebrandt was writing an email that morning, when he suddenly was on his back.

"I remember waking up and seeing the sky where there should be a roof," he said.

Southwest Gas admitted that a previously unmapped Driscopipe 8000 pipe leaked, leading to the explosion.

"It infiltrated the building and because natural gas is lighter than air, it went to the top of the roof," said Milldebrandt's attorney, Buddy Rake. "Someone might have flipped the light switch or the air conditioner went on, and that’s all it took."

Milldebrandt and the store's owners, Andrew and Dillon Ryan, were somehow able to climb over debris and stumble out the front.

Glenn Jordan, who worked two doors down at All American Eyeglass Repair, was also able to make it out to the parking lot.

"I remember a couple people came and helped me out," said Milldebrandt. "I had one guy holding a shade over me to block the sun. And another lady... was just comforting me until everyone got there."

All the men had severe burns to their bodies. Their clothing and hair singed by the intense heat and blast.

Amidst the chaos, Milldebrandt called his wife, Sierra, who was nine months pregnant.

"Do you remember what you told her?" asked ABC15.

"I said there was an explosion at work and to come down here immediately. I didn't know the extent to that point, whatsoever."

Milldebrandt had no idea how bad it was, as his body was coursing with adrenaline.

"I actually told my dad, once I was in the ambulance... that he didn’t need to come because I was going to be home that night," recalled Milldebrandt.

The seriousness of the explosion, and his injuries, did not set in until he pulled up to the hospital.

"It was kind of like a movie scene, where all of the doctors and nurses are waiting for the ambulance outside," he said. "They rolled me out into the sun and I just started burning, uncontrollably, all over. I remember saying, "Get me in the shade!""

Shortly after that request, "they asked me my name, put the oxygen over my face, and that was it."

"Do you remember what you were thinking in those final moments?"

"That my wife was pregnant, and due any day. And I didn't want to miss that," replied Milldebrandt, fighting back tears. "It was really hard."

Milldebrandt does not remember the next week.

"I was in a medically induced coma, to limit the pain that I would have to go through. So they could do more vigorous cleaning of the wounds... If I was awake I wouldn't have been able to take it."

Days after he woke up, on September 6, he got the video call that his daughter, Riley, had been born.

"I was supposed to be the only one in the room, and it ended up being my mom and my wife’s mom," said Milldebrandt. "There were a lot of video conversations. All the time. My phone was constantly plugged in."

The moment was bittersweet because the new father could not be there to hold his baby or support his wife.

"It was just really hard not to be there for her, because we are so close. She's my best friend... I was worried about her and the baby the whole time."

Milldebrandt's wife and baby were quickly discharged from the hospital.

He was at the hospital for 29 days total, then another week for physical therapy.

"They wanted me to be able to function with a newborn baby at home," said Milldebrandt, who was not able to be on his feet or move his hands for more than two weeks.

Back in high school, Milldebrandt was an athlete. He still loves playing competitive volleyball and hiking outdoors.

The process to get back in the swing of his passions has been slow.

In addition to an eye injury, 27% of Milldebrandt's body had second-degree burns.

"All over my hands and my legs," he said. "The pain is indescribable. As bad as you think anything can hurt, it's constant, and radiating... Getting comfortable isn't a thing, really."

Now Milldebrandt and the other victims injured are preparing to file a lawsuit.

The men, and their lawyers, are alleging Southwest Gas and Chevron Phillips, the manufacturer of the pipe, had ample evidence to know that Driscopipe 8000 could prematurely degrade in the heat, and lead to dangerous natural gas leaks.

"They know where every piece of this pipe is," said Buddy Rake, a personal injury attorney who has specialized in serious burn cases. "They have removed it in some areas but not all areas."

Milldebrandt hopes the lawsuit leads to quicker action.

"Get that pipe out of the ground. Why wouldn't you? This happens far too often," said Milldebrandt.

"They have an obligation to remove the pipe," said Rake. "Yesterday was probably too late. They should've already done it."

Southwest Gas officials have known for about a decade that Driscopipe 8000 gas lines, especially those holding stagnant gas, can prematurely degrade in the Arizona heat.

Take a look at the map below to see known Driscopipe leaks across Arizona.

As Milldebrandt works on recovering from his injuries and waiting on a settlement or trial, he is torn -- between loving the stay-at-home dad life and being eager to work again.

"[My daughter is] pretty awesome. We have a good time," he said. "[But] I look forward to the day where I can go back out there [and work]."

And when Riley inevitably asks about her dad's scars one day, Milldebrandt will have the story and life lesson ready to share.

"I would explain it [to her] as, you never know what's going to happen. You got to love unconditionally all the time."