Originally created 07/25/99

Across the area



Officials say fumes likely caused fire

Martinez Fire Department officials said they now believe that a fire at a duplex Friday evening was caused by gas fumes being ignited by a gas water heater.

Willie H. Wright, an occupant of the 230 A and B Pin Court duplex where the fire occurred, had at first told firefighters Friday that he thought the fire was caused by outdoor temperatures igniting gasoline that he had spilled while cutting his grass.

Mr. Wright said he witnessed the spilled gas combust as fire traveled up to the gas can in his hand. He quickly put out the fire. However, minutes later, his wife, Gayneal Wright, smelled smoke. She then noticed that the back portion of the duplex was on fire.

Firefighters said they now believe that Mr. Wright was not able to put the fire out completely because he did not go to its source. It is believed the fire originated in a room off the patio when fumes from the spilled gas reached the gas water heater, said Honey Shore, Martinez Fire Department's public information officer.

"Apparently, (Mr. Wright) was right on top of the heater room when he poured the gas. The flame from the heater ignited the gasoline vapors," Ms. Shore said. "He dropped the can and doused the fire on his patio but didn't realize that the blaze continued inside the utility room."

The fire caused extensive attic damage. However, there were no injuries.

Heat hospitalizes 14 trainees

FORT BENNING -- Fourteen Army trainees suffered heat exhaustion in basic training at this army post near Columbus.

The soldiers were taken to Martin Army Community Hospital on Friday after falling ill from training in 97-degree heat, said Fort Benning spokesman Rich McDowell.

Ten of the trainees were treated and released from the hospital. Four who suffered from dehydration were kept overnight and given fluids intravenously.

The soldiers were doing different activities when they fell ill, Mr. McDowell said.

State gets nature-project grants

ATLANTA -- Georgia will receive about $47 million from the federal government for walking trails, bike paths and historic preservation projects across the state.

The Georgia Department of Transportation selected the projects from 210 applications from cities looking for federal dollars earmarked for projects that "enrich the traveling experience of the highway user."

The projects fall into four categories -- walking and biking trails, landscape and streetscape projects, preservation of archaeological resources and scenic preservation.

Acworth police chief resigns

ACWORTH -- Acworth Police Chief Randy Henson has resigned after leading the department for five years.

Mr. Henson left for personal reasons not related to his police work, said City Manager Brian Bulthuis. He submitted a letter of resignation Tuesday and quit the same day.

Mr. Henson had worked for the Acworth police since 1983. The city in northern Cobb County employs 28 officers.

Maj. Bob Fuller has been appointed acting chief until the city council decides whether to hire a new chief right away or search for candidates.

Though Mr. Henson had considered quitting for some time, he never went into detail about his reasons, Mr. Bulthuis said.

"He and I had talked about this for quite a while," he said. "It wasn't a surprise."

Charleston toll road wins vote

CHARLESTON -- Torn and divided, tri-county public officials voted 20-15 to support construction of a four-lane toll road from the West Ashley area to Johns Island.

The vote Friday followed a debate and an objection from Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who vowed to oppose the plan to extend the Mark Clark Expressway as a toll road from Citadel Mall at U.S. Highway 17 to Maybank Highway on Johns Island.

He will ask the city council to pass a resolution opposing the expressway, which would pass through the city.

With the approval from the Charleston Area Transportation Study Policy Committee, the state Transportation Department will apply for an $89 million federal loan to fund the freeway, said Larry Duke, the department's chief financial officer.

If the Mark Clark Expressway is built, the farms and forests of Johns Island will be overrun with development, Mr. Riley said.

Company hands out severances

COLUMBIA -- The state's third-largest video gambling operator had to give out about $500,000 in executive severance packages earlier this month after a management shake-up.

The company filed documents Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The (Columbia) State reported.

Earlier this month, American Bingo said it was replacing its chief executive officer with one of its shareholders who runs an Alabama investment company. Five other members of American Bingo's board were also let go.

American Bingo's stock closed Friday at 1 1/32, down 3/32.

The company generates more than 65 percent of its annual revenue, which hit $12 million last year, from South Carolina video gambling.

Man dies trying to save family

EUTAWVILLE -- An Ohio man has died of electrocution trying to save his wife and son at a Eutawville marina.

Dale Neff, 37, of Senecaville, was electrocuted in shallow water Friday morning near the boat landing at Cypress Shores Marina, Orangeburg County sheriff's spokesman Chief Robert Keith said.

Mr. Neff and his family were fishing when his wife, Kim, apparently slipped off the dock. The victim's boat was plugged into a 110-volt outlet on the side of the dock. Eutawville Fire Chief Jim Logan said the outlet's grounding was faulty and the water around the boat was electrified.

Dale Neff Jr., his 11-year-old son, jumped in to save his mother and was also shocked.

"The husband ran to the bulkhead and jumped out the boat. When he hit the water he was shocked and went down," Chief Logan said. "It was just a freak accident; maybe his heart was weak."

Bystanders' efforts with CPR and three attempts with a defibrillator failed to restart breathing, Chief Logan said.

Mr. Neff was pronounced dead at The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg.

Mrs. Neff and her son suffered electrical shock and were admitted for observation. Mrs. Neff also dislocated a shoulder trying to struggle out of the water.