Clay (WSYR-TV) - A year has passed since an explosion in an eighth-grade class that left three students and a teacher with burns across their bodies.
There are at least two lawsuits pending against the Liverpool Central School District and the teacher who was conducting the experiment that led to explosion.
Witness statements, investigative reports, and photos of the scene and the aftermath paint a terrifying picture of kids running through the hall on fire.
The teacher – Christopher Walsh – was trying to show students what different types of chemicals look like under a flame.
He told investigators it was a standard demonstration, but reports indicate that he added a chemical that wasn’t listed in the textbook and the result was an explosion.
The brief blast left him with second degree burns up his arm, and students with burns that were much worse.
Doctors say that the damage 14-year-old Christina Kosecki suffered on April 26, 2012 could remain with her forever.
What began as a normal science class, ended with her leaving Soule Road Middle School in an ambulance with burns across the front of her body and blistering that impacted most of the skin on her face.
“She is still, now, even a year after the incident, receiving treatment from plastic surgeons who are treating her for her burns and she's also receiving treatment from therapists,” said attorney Mike Porter.
Her attorney says the incident happened in a flash for the child.
“When she realized she was on fire, she stood up and ran from the room. It wasn't until she got into the hall when she realized how extensive the fire was on her body,” Porter said.
One 3rd degree burn seared through the upper layers of skin on her arm while others covered the rest of her arms, chest and face, and another student's neck and back.
Christina spent the next 10 days in a burn unit, and most of the next year indoors to avoid all sun exposure.
“There's an expectation that many of those burns and scars will remain with her for a long time into the future and perhaps permanently,” Porter said.
Such injuries are usually prevented by following industry safety standards, according to the chief safety consultant for the National Science Teachers Association, Ken Roy.
Roy says the classroom was not set up in line with "professional best practices."
“When you're dealing with alcohols like methanol, ethanol, whatever one - extremely flammable, extremely explosive - you should not be using that in an open laboratory because I don't believe the ventilation would be appropriate to accommodate those vapors,” Roy said.
The material data safety sheet for methanol says it's to be used "only under a chemical fume hood," which helps control the vapors.
But in the case of the Soule Road incident, the fume hood sat in the corner of the room unused.
Because the hood wasn’t used, Roy says the vapors must have spread throughout the classroom. When they caught fire, some students reported that the flames stretched 20 feet long.
Walsh told investigators the reason he didn't use a hood was "because the fume hood was previously used to conduct an experiment with hydrochloric acid."
Safety experts say a dirty fume hood is no excuse to continue on with the demonstration without one.
“If for some reason the fume hood could not be used, then you postpone the experiment. You don't do it,” Roy said.
The material safety data sheet also had these warnings:
- Vapors may form explosive mixtures with air
- Vapors may travel to the source of ignition and flash back
- Keep away from open flames
But Walsh didn't have the safety sheet with him. He told investigators "he removed the sheet because it is made of paper and he did not want to risk it catching fire during the experiment."
“The professional best practice says you need to follow the material safety data sheet. So that's what's expected. If the teacher chooses not to do that then they better have a very good reason. In this particular case, I don't think there is a good reason,” Roy said.
The outcome may leave Christina with the scars and memories of the fire forever. Her family's goal now is making sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.
“The [family] wants to make sure that no one else has to endure what she had to endure that day or what she's had to endure since. She really has a good heart. There's not an ounce of ill will in her. She just hopes to protect others,” Porter said.
Walsh told investigators that he wasn’t required to notify anyone in the school before the demonstration. He said the demonstration was a “standard experiment” that he had conducted “approximately six to seven times per year for 10 years” with no issues.
The school district has declined to comment on whether changes in procedure have been made to make such classroom lessons safer.
Their lawyer won’t discuss the ongoing lawsuit.
According to the district’s faculty directory and his own website, Walsh is now teaching middle school science at another school in the Liverpool district – Chestnut Hill Middle School.
Families have filed as least two lawsuits against the district and the teacher, but court dates have not been set.