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Renters, attorney seek more than $20 million in defamation suit over Collinsville home explosion

By Angelica Saylo Pilo | Jan 29, 2018

Renters who were injured when their home exploded from leaking gas and their former attorney seek more than $20 million each from a man who allegedly made maliciously false statements regarding the circumstances of the explosion.

Lee Irwin, Cheryl Irwin and Ronald S. Motil of Beatty & Motil in Glen Carbon filed the lawsuit on Jan. 18 in the St. Clair County Circuit Court against Christopher Arnold, alleging defamation.

The three-count complaint was filed through attorney Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr. of Keefe, Keefe & Unsell PC in Belleville.

The Irwins filed their original lawsuit against AmeriGas Propane Inc. and property owner Doris King in February 2015 (15-L-183). The suit was filed through Motil, who withdrew his appearance on Oct. 25, 2017. Keefe took over as plaintiff attorney in the injury suit.

In their defamation complaint, the Irwins allege in count I that Arnold falsely said the plaintiffs lied about the circumstances of the explosion, have perjured themselves and falsely testified about the circumstances of the explosion, abused controlled substances, traded in illicit controlled substances, and that the alleged use of the controlled substances caused the explosion.

In count II, Motil alleges Arnold falsely stated that he instructed the defendant to tamper with evidence and destroy evidence.

Cheryl Irwin alleges in count III that Arnold stated that she swore falsely and perjured herself in an unrelated protective order proceeding.

“Defendant’s false charge was not made in the course of a judicial proceeding to which the false charge was material, prompted, or relevant,” the complaint states.

The plaintiffs claim Arnold published the alleged statements on June 27, 2017, in a telephone call to a “1-800” phone number, by an unprivileged conversation with Motil, and at other times to be identified in discovery.

The plaintiffs allege Arnold’s statements have substantially damaged and will continue to damage them.

The plaintiffs seek more than $20 million per count, plus costs.

In their 2015 complaint, the Irwins allege they entered into a lease agreement with King to rent a property located at 805 Troy Street in Collinsville on Sept. 22, 2014. Prior to moving in, the Irwins allegedly entered into an agreement with AmeriGas to provide propane gas and related services to the property through a propane tank located in the rear of the residence and gas service lines located throughout the residence.

The propane tank provided propane to various gas appliances within the home, including the water heater located in the basement.

At approximately 2 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2014, AmeriGas employee Chad Outland partially filled the propane tank with 100 gallons of liquid propane. Outland was unable to light the water heater but allegedly informed the Irwins that he would allow propane to enter the home so the gas stove could be used. He then left the property around 3 p.m.

The suit states that when Lee Irwin returned home from work at 6 p.m., he and Cheryl Irwin went into the basement and attempted to light the water heater. However, his attempts to light the appliance caused an explosion due to leaking gas. 

State Farm also filed a lawsuit involving the explosion on behalf of King and against AmeriGas. 

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 18-L-35

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Keefe Keefe & Unsell PC St. Clair County Circuit Court

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