Pipeline requires personnel on site

Official: Company wasn't notified before dig

THOMSON --- Dixie Pipeline Co., which owns the McDuffie County gas line that exploded Monday after it was hit by a bulldozer, would have sent someone out to help guard against that kind of accident, company officials said Tuesday.


But they weren't called, said spokesman Rick Rainey, citing the company's preliminary investigation. Its policy calls for anyone planning to dig near a pipeline, whether it's planting a tree or tunneling, to contact a One-Call Center at least 48 hours in advance.

"We actually send our own personnel out there, and they are required to physically be on site," Rainey said.

He noted that above-ground markers showed the pipeline's location and that safety pamphlets had been distributed to nearby homeowners.

McDuffie County Commissioner Paul McCorkle was bulldozing on his property Monday when he struck the pipeline, leaving a 2-inch hole, according to McDuffie County Fire Chief Bruce Tanner.

McCorkle, who suffered freeze burns from the escaping liquefied propane gas, went to his house to call 911.

By the time the gas ignited, his son Jason, 23, had come onto the property and was killed. The home of Paul McCorkle's other son, Jon, was destroyed.

McDuffie County Coroner Rhusha Mack said Jason McCorkle died of smoke, soot, super heated inhalation and other thermal injuries. An autopsy was performed Tuesday at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Augusta.

Paul McCorkle was released from the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital on Monday night. He had been listed in good condition earlier Monday.

A call to the McCorkle home Tuesday was answered by a woman who said the family would have no comment.

Gary Nicholson, special agent in-charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's regional office in Thomson, said a preliminary probe by his agency indicates that the explosion was an accident.

"We're not thinking anything criminal about this case," Nicholson said. "It appears right now to us that it was just a terrible tragedy. We're leaning more towards what happened as being an accident."

Nicholson said his office had been in touch with Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dennis Sanders, which he said is "routine" because a death is involved.

The roaring fire began about 11 a.m. Monday and finally ended about 8 a.m. Tuesday. Tanner estimated that 10-15 acres were damaged.

Several local and state agencies are investigating, as well as the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

"We will go and do an investigation in order to determine whether or not the line was properly marked and whether or not the operator came out and did the proper markings," spokesman Damon Hill said.

"There is a general requirement where excavators are required to contact the state One-Call agency. If there's going to be some excavation around their pipeline, they would like to have their staff on hand to make sure things are being done, but that's up to each individual company," Hill said.

Twenty-four hours after the explosion, Thomson was still reeling from the news.

"This being Thomson, you can't imagine something like this happening here, especially with this family -- the rocks of the community, the pillars," said Brenda Veneigh.

Countless cars crept by the site, peering out their windows past the caution tape to the charred woods.

A McDuffie County sheriff's deputy kept watch at the gate and said people had been creeping by all morning. Because of that, an officer will guard the gate as long as the investigation continues.

Smoke lingered in spots, and trees stood scorched with only their tops showing any signs of green.

A two-lane concrete bridge appeared to divide a blackened forest with almost no life from a green one where birds chirped.

Samuel Haney drove by on the way to a doctor's appointment.

"I just wanted to see if it was still burning," he said.

Haney said he was mainly concerned for a friend, Kim Odom, whose home sat in the middle of the property.

Odom was allowed home Monday evening with a police escort to retrieve personal items.

She called the accident "a heartbreaking tragedy."

"I see them every day," she said of her landlord and his family.

Dixie Pipeline Co. is providing Odom with a hotel room for the length of the investigation, Rainey said.

Veneigh, who attends church with the McCorkle family, said she is praying for them but will not be driving by to gawk.

"I did not, have not and will not -- out of respect for the family," she said. "I don't need to see where such a tragedy happened. I'll ask God to do that."

Although they weren't extremely close, Veneigh said there isn't anything she wouldn't do to lighten their sorrow.

As a mother of four, she said she can't imagine the pain Jason's parents must be feeling.

"I know God is with them," she said, wiping away a tear. "He's not going to let go of them.

"They're wonderful Christian people. You couldn't ask for better people in the community."

Funeral services for Jason McCorkle will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Thomson First United Methodist Church. The family will receive friends tonight at the residence.

Staff Writer Ben Bussard contributed to this article.

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The Pipeline

Pipelines are typically buried at least 30-36 inches deep, but it has not yet been determined how deep the pipeline was at the incident location.

The pipeline traveling through Thomson is "the main artery for providing propane to the Southeast and the East Coast up to North Carolina," according to Rick Rainey, spokesman for Dixie Pipeline Co. It originates along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Rainey doesn't expect there to be any effect on propane customers because this isn't the heating season. "Most customers aren't going to see any noticeable impact from this," including price changes, he said.

It has not yet been determined how much gas was lost.

-- From staff reports