The death of a Canberra man in an explosion in the car park of a Tuggeranong school last year was a tragic accident caused by the combination of a leaking gas bottle and the vehicle’s electronic central locking system, a coroner has found.
On the afternoon of 2 August 2018, Shane Senini, 51, suffered multiple injuries when his work utility exploded as he stood next to it in the car park of St Clare of Assisi Primary School in Conder, where he had gone to pick up his son Blake from after-school care.
Chief Coroner Lorraine Walker found that Mr Senini had inadvertently neglected to fully close the valve on an acetylene cylinder when packing his trade equipment into a sealed storage compartment on his vehicle, causing an explosive mixture of gas and air that ignited when he got out of the car and activated the electronic central locking system with a keyless remote control.
Ms Walker said acetylene gas had a very low ignition energy and a short circuit between an exposed wire and bare metal had created a spark in the storage compartment.
Mr Senini took the full force of the explosion, suffering extensive injuries to his face, head, chest, abdomen and both arms, which were the direct cause of his death.
Ms Walker praised the efforts of those who went to Mr Senini’s aid and secured the area, as well as police, ambulance and Fire and Rescue officers.
Parent Kim Walsh had parked nearby and was first on the scene. At 4:49 pm, Ms Walsh heard a large noise and felt her vehicle shake or shudder. Thinking someone had backed into her car she got out of her vehicle and walked to the rear of the car, where she saw Mr Senini lying on the ground with blood on his face and coming from his ears, mouth and nose, and a cut to his left arm.
Ms Walsh began chest compressions after not detecting a pulse.
Jeffrey Gear had got out of his car in another area of the car park and ‘heard and felt’ a loud explosion, looking up to see a ladder flying through the air and then that a vehicle had exploded. He immediately called 000.
Assistant Principal Carmen Myles was in the school office when she heard ‘a loud booming explosion, followed by a thud’. She ran to the car park and saw debris on the ground and Ms Walsh kneeling over Mr Senini. She directed an ambulance be called and went inside with another parent to collect the school’s defibrillator. She also directed the after school care coordinators to keep the children inside and to close the car park gates to prevent other parents from entering the school.
Ms Walsh removed Mr Senini’s shirt and she and Ms Myles applied the defibrillator but no cardiac rhythm was detected so they continued chest compressions in tandem until emergency services arrived and took over.
Another parent, Joel Muir, was tidying debris at the scene when he heard gas leaking and turned off three dials on oxy-acetylene bottles in the damaged toolbox.
As well as police and emergency services, the Bomb Response team, HAZMAT and WorkSafe inspectors, and an AFP Forensics team attended the scene.
An AFP technical officer later found that an insulated wire in the destroyed storage compartment connected to the central locking system had rubbed over time against the painted tool box frame, causing both the wire and the tool box frame to become exposed to bare metal.
Mr Senini, who operated a refrigeration mechanical business with his wife, had a history of anxiety but Mr Walker ruled this out as a contributing factor, saying the explosion was a tragic accident.
She did not make any public safety recommendations, noting that WorkSafe had issued warnings to industry in the wake of the explosion.