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Wellness Center Explosion Follow-Up

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

The long-time director of Raleigh's Rex Wellness Center, Neil Byrd, wasone 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 beeninstalling 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 criticalcondition, were taken by life-flight helicopters to the UNC HospitalsJaycee Burn Center with second and third degree burns over 20-40% of theirupper bodies.

The building was evacuated, moving approximately 35 people outside afterthe 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 sheheard a large thud followed by a series of buzzers and alarms. Then her roombegan to fill with smoke.

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

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

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

The NC Jaycee Burn Center is only one of five nationwide. The facilitydelivers a degree of trauma care not normally accommodated at mosthospitals. The UNC unit opened in 1980. It treated 500 burn patients in1996 alone. Twenty-one beds are served by 11 staff members dedicated tocritical care.

,RobertCarver, andYvonneSimons,GilHollingsworth, andRobert Meikle

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