1 of 2
Detroit News, Daniel Mears) DETROIT FREE PRESS OUT, NO SALES, NO MAGS, NO ARCHIVE, Associated Press
In a Dec. 29, 2010 photo, the scene of a suspected natural gas explosion at the William C. Franks Furniture store in Wayne, Mich. is seen. A nearly yearlong investigation into the explosion that killed two employees couldn't determine the cause. Consumers Energy Co. says in a report it submitted Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011 to the Michigan Public Service Commission that it examined three possible causes of the explosion.

DETROIT — A nearly yearlong investigation could not determine the cause of a suburban Detroit furniture store explosion that killed two employees, seriously injured the owner and leveled the building.

Consumers Energy Co. said in a report submitted Tuesday to the Michigan Public Service Commission that it examined three possible causes of the explosion last December at the William C. Franks Furniture store in Wayne.

The 65-page report said investigators found a two-inch break in a natural gas main about 230 feet from the building but don't know if it malfunctioned before or after the incident. They also couldn't determine if there was a gas leak inside the building because piping was removed or damaged during fire and rescue operations, or gas came into the building through a sanitary sewer.

"There was a very intense effort to determine a cause," said Consumers Energy spokesman Jeff Holyfield. "We did our best to identify the cause but we just weren't able to."

Employees James Zell, 64, and Leslie Machniak, 54, died. Owner Paul Franks suffered serious burns.

Consumers Energy said it faced 10 lawsuits over the explosion. Six were settled, including those filed by Franks and the victims' families. Holyfield said the settlements do not mean the utility is admitting responsibility, but the company decided they were in the best interests of everyone involved.

Two other injury cases and two property damage cases remain open.

Franks Furniture Vice President Stephanie Christesen declined to comment Wednesday on the report or the length of time it took to complete because she hadn't seen it. She said Franks, her father, is "doing much better."

The store was demolished and the site was cleared but a final decision hasn't been made on whether to rebuild there or elsewhere, she said. The store has been operating out of nearby warehouse.

Wayne Mayor Al Haidous said he credited Consumers Energy for trying to deal with everybody involved but was disappointed the investigation didn't say more.

"They left a lot of unanswered questions," he said. "I was hoping to see more direct (determination of) the cause. I felt they could be more specific."

Holyfield said Consumers Energy also will file a report early next month with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.