With a lump in his throat, Stéphane Bakir looks at the time. It’s nearly 1:45 p.m. “It’s still so sad. “At this precise hour, fifteen years ago to the day, on October 30, 2007, a terrible explosion blew the facade of his restaurant, the Star of the Center, in the heart of Bondy (Seine-Saint-Denis).
In the brewery, it’s the shot. Hundreds of covers served. The chef and his clerk are busy in the kitchen. Stéphane Bakir is in the hallway leading to the kitchens. His partner, Ismaël Gencel chats with customers behind the counter.
The bucket of an excavator has just pierced a gas pipeline that supplies the restaurant. A spark caused the explosion. We deplore one death in the restaurant and around fifty injured, thirty of them seriously. Victims burned, concussed by the blast, traumatized forever. Stéphane Bakir suffered facial burns. He lost his work tool. Two years later, he will build another business, Le Chêne, just opposite L’Etoile. Ismaël Gencel will remain twenty-eight days in a coma.
Victims marked for life
This Sunday, October 30, 2022, it brings together survivors around a warm and comforting aperitif. There is Cidalia Gomes, a faithful waitress, 37 years old at the time of the events: “I was collecting customers when I heard a big boom then I saw a big ball of fire pass over my head. My hair caught fire. She smothers the flames with both hands. After the shock, Cidalia only thinks of one thing: “Call home to prevent the children from watching TV. ” Burned in the 2nd degree, she will undergo a transplant. Then will come the nightmares treated with antidepressants.
In the kitchen, Ponnappapilla, the clerk, and Christophe, the chef, are thrown violently against a door. The first comes out with a bump, the chief is burned in the arm and in the head. “I have never known such horrible pain,” he recalls, still stirred. Christophe storms out of the restaurant and starts running around the church: “I’ve done several laps. That way I had less pain. »
Ahmed Senhadji, 59, was having lunch at the back of the room with his 10 and 11 year old children. “I thought it was an attack. With his sons, he has the reflex to take refuge under the table. “A huge flame passed very close to us. I understood that we had escaped death. The father of the family and the two boys fled, their faces speckled with shards of glass. Sitting at the counter, a man will not recover: Jean-Serge A. His charred body was found on the mezzanine floor.
“Why were we abandoned like this?”
As in all disasters, the inhabitants of Bondy remember precisely what they were doing when the explosion occurred. There are also those who have been saved by fate. The funeral director should have been seated at the Etoile, but he had to make a detour to his store, which had been vandalized during the night. “He was saved by burglars,” Chef Christophe still cannot believe.
For fifteen years, the survivors have been reminiscing about the tragedy over and over again, without mourning. To the suffering, always present, is added an interminable wait. “We still don’t have a trial date,” laments Stéphane Bakir. It’s like it happened yesterday. Anger surfaces: “They don’t care about us. Why were we abandoned like this? We are victims. I lost my business. »
Fifty-two civil parties are expecting. Maître Aude Evin, lawyer for Stéphane Bakir, sent a letter to the public prosecutor of Bobigny. He remained unanswered.
Four investigating judges succeeded each other
The plaintiffs had to experience the excessive delays of justice in Seine-Saint-Denis. In 2007, an investigating judge was seized. He issued his dismissal order on November 29, 2018. “Four investigating judges followed one another”, specifies Me Evin. The company STPS, which had laid the pipeline, was indicted for homicide and involuntary injuries; damage or destruction, deterioration of property belonging to others by the effect of an explosion or a fire caused by a breach of a safety or prudence obligation.
Justice accuses him of “not having respected the standards of burial and protection of gas pipelines”. The driver of the machine of the Bourgeois company will also be tried for homicide and involuntary injuries.
No judgment, no compensation
Last attempt to challenge his incrimination, STPS appealed to the investigating chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal against the judge’s order in December 2018. She also regretted that the Bourgeois company which employed the worker n was not prosecuted, because it would not have carried out the preliminary surveys.
In its judgment delivered on April 22, the investigating chamber confirmed the terms of the referral order and refused to prosecute SAS Bourgeois. Consequence of this river procedure: without judgment, the civil parties cannot benefit from compensation for the physical and psychological damage, nor for the loss of their property. Stéphane Barki continues to produce a balance sheet every year for a restaurant that no longer exists. An obligation that he must respect if he wants to be compensated.