A year ago, in the hours after a house exploded on Chickering Street, Gov. Charlie Baker went to see where Leonel Rondon, 18, had been killed.
He said had Rondon pulled in that driveway five minutes later or parked in a different place “this horrible incident would have been avoided,” said Baker Friday, the first anniversary of the teen’s death.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and a terrible tragedy occurred,” Baker said. “I know I speak for everybody when I say I will certainly never forget him and his family.”
A blue and white plaque was unveiled and dedicated late Friday morning at Jackson and Chestnut streets — Rondon’s neighborhood. The plaque has the city seal along with a picture of the late teen.
Earlier, family, friends and officials had gathered at a Mass at St. Mary of the Assumption parish to remember Rondon, who was in his senior year at Phoenix Academy charter school in the Everett Mills when he was killed.
Family members dressed in black and white. Friends wore T-shirts with Rondon’s picture on them Friday.
A tall, lanky teen, Rondon had just gotten his driver’s license on Sept. 13, 2018.
He was killed after he drove into the driveway at 35 Chickering St. late that afternoon. The home’s chimney collapsed onto the small SUV he was driving and despite rescuers’ efforts to save him, he was pronounced dead later that evening.
The Chickering Street house explosion was among dozens of explosions and fires caused by overpressurization of gas pipes that day. Thousands were displaced from their homes, a massive restoration project would ensue and the cost of recovery will exceed more than $1.6 billion.
Baker noted that “everyone has a story” and the plaque erected for Rondon Friday “will speak his story forever.”
Mayor Daniel Rivera said the plaque was erected in the area where “Leonel spent his time and his life.”
But he said he hoped this was “the last time we name a street corner for some child who lost his life for recklessness.”
Rivera spoke of the trials and uncertainty of the past year, during the gas disaster recovery.
“We were not sure we’d get through the last year and get on the other side of it,” he said.
He thanked all first responders for their work, including those who came from outside the city, to help during the disaster.
“They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them but thank God they came,” Rivera said.
Rivera also thanked the work of elected officials kept the “pressure on Columbia Gas to do the right thing every day.”
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, whose father grew up in Lawrence on Phillips Street, said proposed federal legislation, the Leonel Rondon Safety Pipeline Act, will forever memorialize the teen by “all those whose lives will be saved in the future.”
In her remarks, local Congresswoman Lori Trahan said Rondon was beloved to his family and friends and known as “funny and silly, as a good uncle.”
“He was a leader and often described by this teachers as a mentor at Phoenix Academy,” Trahan said.
She stressed Rondon’s life will always have meaning.
“I know today Leonel is here in spirit,” she said.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.