A McDuffie County elected official was injured and his 23-year-old son killed when a gas line exploded on family property off Stagecoach Road near Belle Meade Country Club on Monday, authorities say.
Gary Nicholson, special agent in-charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Region 7 Office, identified the deceased victim as Jason McCorkle, of Stagecoach Road, Thomson. Mr. McCorkle is believed to have been killed instantly. An autopsy was scheduled to be performed at the GBI Crime Lab in Augusta on Tuesday to determine the exact cause of the man's death.
Agent Nicholson said the young man's father, Paul McCorkle, who serves as a McDuffie County commissioner, was injured. The older McCorkle, serving in his first term on the county commission, received what was described as "frost bite burns" from the explosion that occurred about 10:45 a.m., McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services Chief Bruce Tanner said.
Commissioner McCorkle was treated at Augusta's Joseph M. Still Burn Center and released Monday night, according to burn center spokeswoman Anne Cordeiro.
Officials from at least five agencies are investigating the cause of the gas explosion. Those agencies are the GBI, McDuffie County Sheriff's Department, McDuffie County Coroner's Office, McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services and the Georgia State Fire Marshal's Office.
"We're treating it as tragic accident," Agent Nicholson said, noting his agency was called to render assistance from Sheriff Logan Marshall.
Nicholson said the elder McCorkle had been grading some property where his two sons, Jason and Jon, lived off Stagecoach Road.
A preliminary investigation has revealed that Paul McCorkle accidentally struck an eight-inch Dixie Pipeline Co. liquid-propane gas line, which triggered a massive explosion minutes later, according to Glenn Allen, a spokesman with the Georgia State Fire Marshal's Office.
Agent Nicholson said the older McCorkle got off the bulldozer and drove home to nearby Belle Meade where he called 911. During that time, Jason McCorkle came along onto the property and was apparently killed instantly when the gas line exploded.
The gas line, which is about 30 years old, extends from Texas to North Carolina.
Strong pressure from the gas line, which extended a fireball about 30 feet into the air, had been seen coming from where the explosion initially occurred.
About 50 firefighters from McDuffie, Warren, Wrens, Martinez/Columbia County, Wilkes, Richmond and the McDuffie-Warren Unit of the Georgia Forestry Commission battled the fire for several hours on Monday. Approximately 20 acres of woodlands burned, as did a doublewide mobile home, a shed, a jeep and the bulldozer, Chief Tanner said.
Pipeline officials also have sent a specialized response team from their corporate headquarters to assist local authorities.
Chief Tanner said although no one was evacuated in homes nearby, it was a process initially considered.
He described Monday's emergency as one of the worst he's seen in his years as county fire chief.
"It ranks in the top 10," Chief Tanner said.
A separate woods fire nearby on Monday afternoon -- not related to the gas explosion -- broke out along the westbound lanes of I-20, snarling traffic about five miles for more than two hours. The cause of that fire still had not been determined as of Monday night.
Firefighters provided fire-watch during the night at the scene of the gas explosion, as a precautionary measure. They received food and beverages from members of the Augusta Chapter of the American Red Cross.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the McCorkle family as a result of this tragic accident," Patrick Gallagher on behalf of Rick Rainey, director of public relations for Enterprise Products Partners L.P. "The affected section of the pipeline was quickly shut down. We are fully cooperating with local authorities and will be conducting a thorough investigation into this tragic accident."