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Judge suspends hearings into Calif. pipeline blast

Associated Press Modified: October 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm •  Published: October 11, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Two California judges granted a request Thursday to temporarily suspend public hearings into a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion and instead hold closed-door negotiations on how much the pipeline's owner should pay in fines.

Victims of the deadly San Bruno gas pipeline blast urged California regulators earlier in the day to continue the public investigative process to determine the amount of fines collected from Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Later, administrative law judges Mark Wetzell and Amy Yip-Kikugawa approved the California Public Utilities Commission safety division's request to put the hearings on hold until Nov. 1 to give the parties time to try to broker a settlement.

The Sept. 9, 2010, explosion killed eight people, injured others and destroyed dozens of homes.

Relatives who lost loved ones as well as San Bruno officials urged the commission to continue open hearings at its regular Thursday meeting.

"By closing the door to the hearing ... it basically opens the grave of my daughter and all the other eight victims," said Rene Morales, whose daughter, Jessica, died in the explosion.

PG&E could face hundreds of millions of dollars in possible fines.

The commission's president, Michael Peevey, said holding private negotiations could bring about a settlement much sooner.

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