“It’s a mystery,” Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd said. “We’re baffled. Usually when there’s an explosion like this, it sucks all the oxygen out and there’s no fire. This was a big explosion and a big fire.”
Destroyed was a workshop and garage building located at 1025 Youngs Farm Road. The explosion and ensuing fire killed James Thomas Sharp, 33, who lived at the rental home along with his wife and children, and Charles Franklin Wells Jr., 18, who lived a short distance away on Buchanan Highway, Dodd said.
The call went out to county volunteer firefighters at 12:18 a.m. Monday.
Among the first on the scene was Randy Winkles, chief of Station 7 of the Polk County Volunter Fire Department. He lives in the area and the fire station is right down the road from where the fire occurred.
“He was there within a matter of minutes,” Dodd said. “He said when he arrived the building was already destroyed.”
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent an investigator to help, because of the explosion. However, after hours of shifting through the debris with the help of a backhoe, investigators still had found no reason for the explosion.
“The ATF guy is baffled too,” Dodd said. “We do know there were no liquids in there, nothing flammable, no propane, no natural gas, so it’s just kind of a mystery to us right now.”
Dodd said the initial blast blew out the walls of the building, and then the roof came down.
“It threw debris approximately 100 yards, so it was a massive explosion,” Dodd said.
Asked if investigators had found anything to suggest that illegal drug activity, such as the manufacture of methamphetamine, might have caused the explosion, Dodd said, “we have not been able to rule it out, but the information that we’ve gathered from witnesses and family members does not lead us to believe that at this point.”
Dodd said that Sharp apparently called Wells shortly before midnight and asked him to help move something off a truck. Wells’ father reportedly heard the explosion about 15 minutes later.
“We don’t know what they were moving,” Dodd said.
Matt Crawford, 18, lives nearby. Crawford, whose cousin, Wells, was one of the two men killed, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he “heard an explosion, so I took off from my house and ran over here. I was the first one here.”
Crawford said that when he got there, he could hear the victims yelling for help but could not go into the burning building to rescue them.
Another neighbor, Tony Summerville, said the Sharps had only lived in the house for a few months, but “were good neighbors.”
“It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s a tragedy any way you slice it.”
Click here for the earlier reports.
This story contains information previously published in stories from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Associated Press.