Phoenix Families Overcome Tragedy, Embrace Hope After Settling Lawsuit Over Juneteenth Celebration Accident

PHOENIX — Juneteenth, a day typically marked by jubilation and reflection on African American culture and history, has a shadow of sorrow for some residents in a Phoenix community. This shadow stems from a harrowing incident in 2020 involving a catastrophic grill explosion that inflicted severe injuries on two families.

During a small gathering on Juneteenth that year, a barbecue at a local apartment complex turned tragic when the grill unexpectedly exploded, engulfed in flames. The celebration, meant to honor the end of slavery in the United States, quickly shifted to chaos and fear.

Anna Stovall, one of the attendees and a survivor, revealed that the explosion was sudden and violent, projecting a fireball as far as 15 feet from the source. At the time, Stovall was accompanied by her young son, Mateo, who was only 22 months old. Both suffered extensive second and third-degree burns and spent nearly two weeks in the intensive care unit, grappling with the immediate physical pain and the long-lasting emotional trauma that followed.

Another victim, Dorothy Ashford, was at the same event with her son Juan’ye. They too suffered significant burn injuries. Ashford shared that the recovery process has been tough, especially for Juan’ye, who finds it distressing to look back at photos from before the incident, despite positive changes in his appearance.

The incident led to a lawsuit against Weidner Apartment Homes, the company in charge of the apartment complex where the mishap occurred. The suit alleged a botched conversion from propane to charcoal by a landscaping company improperly employed for such tasks contributed to the dangerous situation. This alleged negligence highlighted concerns about safety standards and oversight in residential community facilities.

Despite the physical recovery that both Stovall and Ashford have gone through, the emotional scars remain, especially every Juneteenth. The event, supposed to be a joyful celebration, now also marks the anniversary of their ordeal.

The path toward healing has been a strenuous one, with extensive physical therapy and the battle for justice through legal avenues. Recently, a significant settlement was reached with Weiderson Apartment Homes, providing both financial relief and a sense of closure to the victims and their families.

Both mothers expressed a cautious optimism about the future. They hope that with the lawsuit settled, they can begin to reclaim the joy of Juneteenth. Their resilience and the support from the community stand as a testament to their strength and determination to overcome the trauma.

Despite repeated attempts to reach out to Weidner Apartment Homes for comment, there has been no response from the company.

The story of that Juneteenth in 2020 serves as a stark reminder of the unexpected challenges and dangers that can intrude on community celebrations, casting long shadows over what should be festive occasions. It underscores the necessity of vigilance and adherence to safety protocols during such events to prevent similar tragedies in the future.