Local News

Wellness Center Explosion Follow-Up

Posted August 1, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— One man was in serious condition, another in critical condition Saturday after a Friday propane gas explosion cut short the grand opening of Cary's Rex Hospital Wellness Center.

The long-time director of Raleigh's Rex Wellness Center, Neil Byrd, was one of two people injured in the blast, which occured at around 2:30 p.m. Friday. The second man, Sherwood Sasser, is a contractor who had been installing a washer and dryer at the center when the gas line exploded. The force of the explosion caused part of the second floor to collapse.

Byrd, who is in serious condition, and Sasser, who is in critical condition, were taken by life-flight helicopters to the UNC Hospitals Jaycee Burn Center with second and third degree burns over 20-40% of their upper bodies.

The building was evacuated, moving approximately 35 people outside after the blast. In the parking lot, the displaced employees and patrons -- many of whom were still in their work-out clothes -- consoled each other as fire trucks and news helicopters invaded the area.

Wellness Center member Cheryl Cort was enjoying the jacuzzi when she heard a large thud followed by a series of buzzers and alarms. Then her room began to fill with smoke.

Tony Boone was on his way up an escalator to work on the roof when he saw the door to the laundry room blow open. After running to help the two injured men, Boone assisted crews with evacuations.

The blast is not believed to have caused structural damage to the building. As a precaution, the center will not reopen until it is found to be structurally sound. Damages are estimated at $20,000.

The Cary branch of the Rex Wellness Center is located at the corner of Lake Pine Drive and the Southwest Cary Parkway. The wellness center itself occupies only about half of Rex's new two-story building. The other half will be used for doctors' offices when it opens later this month.

The NC Jaycee Burn Center is only one of five nationwide. The facility delivers a degree of trauma care not normally accommodated at most hospitals. The UNC unit opened in 1980. It treated 500 burn patients in 1996 alone. Twenty-one beds are served by 11 staff members dedicated to critical care.

,Robert Carver, andYvonne Simons ,Gil Hollingsworth, andRobert Meikle