“On October 30, 2007, I was badly burned in a gas explosion, spent 28 days in a coma and lost my business. The situation has become unbearable. Are we forgotten? »Ismaël Gencel and Stéphane Bakir, have just sent a poignant letter to the Paris Court of Appeal. They are among the 55 victims of this disaster.
Twelve years ago, a fatal backhoe strike in a gas line set their brewery, Etoile du Center, ablaze. Result: one dead, 55 injured, including thirty serious.
Since then, Stéphane and Ismaël, like the other victims, have been waiting for justice to be pronounced. “Much more recent cases are already judged and we are still waiting,” lament the traders.
It must be said that the file is colossal. By the number of victims first. By that of the expertises and second opinions which have been carried out. During these 12 years, several examining magistrates have also succeeded on the case, within a tribunal de grande instance, that of Bobigny, where the magistrates are overwhelmed by the procedures.
In November 2018, the investigation was finally closed and it referred the operator of the construction machine and the company STPS to the criminal court for “attempted homicide and unintentional injuries, involuntary destruction of property by the effect of a explosion or fire by breach of a duty of care ”. The end of the wait?
“As long as justice has not passed, we will have a hard time turning the page”
No, because a new disappointment slowed down the procedure even further. Me Buisson-Fizellier, counsel to STPS, appealed to the Paris Court of Appeal. ” The Court of Cassation (Editor’s note: court seized when all remedies have been exhausted) declared the Bourgeois company, which had carried out the work, to be definitively responsible at the civil level. We ask at least that it be referred to the criminal court, especially since it is she the employer of the crane driver ”. The lawyer adds: “While the STPS company had intervened well upstream to bury the pipe”.
This final legal pirouette plunges the victims into disarray. “It’s to save time. As long as justice has not passed, we will have a hard time turning the page, ”says Ismaël Gencel. It also blocks compensation. So far the two restorers have only received a tiny portion for their material damage. Surrealist detail, they must also present an annual balance sheet of the Etoile du Center. “We are obliged to keep it in operation even if it no longer exists! “Stéphane squeaks.
However, twelve years later, the wounds are far from being closed. Every year, as the fateful date approaches, the images of the drama come to the surface. “I can no longer sleep during this period”, confides Ismaël. At the time of the explosion he was behind the cash register.
A charred body in the hallway
“It was around 1:45 p.m. we were on duty.” A huge explosion sounds and a flare rises several meters high setting the restaurant ablaze. Ishmael is very badly burned. His partner, who is in the hallway leading to the kitchens, opens his eyes to find a charred dead man.
It took him two years to set up a new business. And much longer to face the gaping hole left by the explosion. The new brewery was built in front of the remains of the Etoile du Center.
“When I was at work, I avoided looking outside, we only saw debris, confesses Ishmael. Until 2015, when a new brewery opened ”.
For this fatal anniversary, they were to lay a wreath of flowers. “We don’t want a plate, that would remind us too much of the nightmare,” slips Ismaël. They also rely on their loyal customers. “A lot of people call us or come to see us that day. We all talk together, that helps us, ”adds Stéphane.
Exasperated, Sylvine Thomassin, the PS mayor of Bondy, also counts the years: “If this had happened on the Champs Elysees, I find it hard to think that it would have taken 12 years before making a decision. “