Rondon family honors legacy of 18-year-old victim 5 years after Merrimack Valley explosions

LAWRENCE, Mass. — As we mark five years since the Merrimack Valley explosions, one local family is marking five years without their beloved son.

The Rondon family lost their only son Leonel. They say he had dreams of going to college and was known for helping others, even strangers.

Leonel’s sister, Lucianny, says she misses her little brother every day.

“It’s hard, I try to explain to my daughter that he is with God but it’s difficult. She says ‘Why can’t he just return him back?’”

Leonel was just 18 years old when he died in the explosions. He had just passed his driving test and drove to a friend’s house to share the good news. As he was waiting in the driveway, the house exploded. A chimney fell on his SUV, crushing him in the front seat.

Federal investigators determined that over-pressurized natural gas lines caused the explosions that destroyed more than 100 buildings in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.

Columbia Gas pleaded guilty in Federal Court to reckless disregard and flagrant indifference to minimum safety standards. The utility paid millions in fines and settled a lawsuit brought by Rondon’s family.

Lucianny Rondon says she’s proud of how her family has worked to prevent this from happening again in Massachusetts and beyond.

“Now there’s a law that will protect other families from going through the pain that me and my family go through every day,” she said.

Lucianny testifed in front of lawmakers who would eventually pass new rules that tighten safety standards for natural gas pipelines.

Doug Sheff, the Rondon family’s attorney, worked with local senators to draft the Leonel Rondon Pipeline Safety Act.

“It was really the courage of the Rondon family that allowed us to go forward and do this,” Sheff said. “They were so intent and so committed to the cause of keeping others safe.”

“I want people to remember him as him as very happy person, very humble, willing to help anybody… anybody, in need,” said Lucianny. She says the family planned to mark the anniversary by visiting Leonel’s grave and sharing stories of how he made their lives better.

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