OSHA investigating explosion on Kentucky towboat

Published: Jan. 19, 2018 at 3:28 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2018 at 2:17 PM CST
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The “William E. Strait” sank 20 feet into the Mississippi River in December 2015. (Source:...
The “William E. Strait” sank 20 feet into the Mississippi River in December 2015. (Source: WMC-TV)
(Source: Greg Burd)
(Source: Greg Burd)
(Source: Nathan Ellgren/KFVS)
(Source: Nathan Ellgren/KFVS)
(Source: Nathan Ellgren/KFVS)
(Source: Nathan Ellgren/KFVS)

CALVERT CITY, KY (KFVS) - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived in Calvert City, Kentucky to investigate the deadly towboat explosion on January 20.

OSHA's investigation is standard procedure.

Western Rivers Boat Management said in a statement they are fully cooperating with the investigation.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all who have lost loved ones, for those injured who are recovering with their families and to all of our employees involved. In particular, we send our condolences to the families of First Marine's Tim Wright. Tim was a very special man whom we loved and respected very much. We also wish a speedy recovery to Billy Koonce and look forward to the day when he can return to work.

"At the time of the incident, workers employed by First Marine, as well as workers employed by contractors, Hutco, Inc., Thermal Control, and Rupke Blasting and Painting Co, were continuing their work to rebuild the M/V WILLIAM E STRAIT, a significant marine construction project that has been ongoing in various stages. The vessel partially sank when it was struck by another vessel on the Mississippi River near Memphis in December 2015, an incident that was not connected to the event that occurred last week.

"OSHA has arrived in Calvert City to conduct an investigation, which is standard procedure after this type of incident. We are fully cooperating with that investigation. We will use its findings, along with the results of our own investigation, to implement any changes needed to improve workplace safety – the first priority in all our operations."

The explosion was on the Tennessee River on Hollinger Road in Calvert City.

According to Kentucky State Police, at 9:17 a.m., the Marshall County Dispatch received a call reporting an explosion on a towboat dry-docked on Hollinger Road.

KSP Troopers say the towboat named the William E. Strait was being worked on at the time.

They say the preliminary investigation showed an explosion resulted in a flash fire and then a small fire inside the towboat.

Three people were pronounced dead at the scene and numerous other people were injured.

Fifty-two-year-old Timothy L. Wright, of Calvert City, Ky.; 56-year-old Jerome A. Smith, of Thibodaux, La.; and 41-year-old Quentin J. Stewart of Opelousas, La. were pronounced dead at the scene by the Marshall County coroner.

According to KSP, autopsies on Saturday, Jan. 20 confirmed the victims died from injuries received after the explosion.

According to our sister station, WMC Action News 5, the vessel was involved in another incident in 2015.

The towboat was traveling on the Mississippi River just south of the I-55 bridge in Memphis, Tennessee, when it hit another vessel.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the William E. Strait sank 20 feet into the water. Nobody was injured in the crash.

According to KSP, 21-year-old Javier Fuenes reportedly had "minor injuries," 23-year-old Wilson Madrid had "minor injuries," James Lang had "serious injuries" and Tyler Wedeking had "serious injuries." They were taken by ambulance to area hospitals.

Jimmy Lang and Billy Counts were taken by helicopter to a Nashville hospital and all were listed as being in stable condition in the burn unit on Monday.

Tyler Wedeking was taken to a hospital in Paducah.

He has been released from the hospital and suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his face.

According to KSP, the property the explosion happened on is owned by First Marine. The towboat is owned by Smithland Towing. They say the workers on the site of the explosion were from First Marine, Four Rivers Marine Coating, Hutco and Thermal Control.

The preliminary investigation showed a total of 41 people were on site, but not all of them were on the towboat at the time of the explosion.

KSP Troopers say there is no early indication of foul play being involved in the explosion.

The U.S. Coast Guard was also on scene and an OSHA and state police have been assigned to investigate.

Calvert City Fire Department, Gilbertsville Fire Department, East Marshall Fire Department and Palma-Briensburg Fire Department responded, along with Marshall County Rescue Squad, Marshall County Office of Emergency Management, Marshall County Sheriff's Office, Calvert City Police Department, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Marshall County Ambulance, Livingston County Ambulance, Murray-Calloway County Ambulance, Mercy Ambulance and Air Evac.

It happened near the First Marine LLC Dry Dock Boat and Barge Repair.

People were asked to avoid the industrial area of town for the foreseeable future as multiple agencies are responding.

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