A Madison Township, Ohio, couple awoke to a real-life nightmare on November 6, 2017, when an explosion demolished their house. The explosion ultimately claimed one of their lives and destroyed the home the couple shared. Although a preliminary link has been found to a natural gas leak as the cause of the explosion, officials have not uncovered the origin of the leak. Reports indicate that neighbors had called about a gas leak in the neighborhood in the past, and such explosions have been linked to building collapses.
Ohio Building Explosion Occurred Just Before 4:00 A.M.
Fifty-four-year-old Shelly Williams and 59-year-old Stewart Bell, a longtime couple, were asleep in their bedroom on the second floor of their home on Everson Road East when a loud explosion occurred, prompting neighbors to call emergency responders at 3:59 a.m.
The explosion leveled the home, injuring both Williams and Bell. The structure quickly caught fire, which Madison Township Fire Department personnel battled as they waited for Columbia Gas, who supplies natural gas to the area, to turn off the gas in the vicinity.
The force of the explosion was enough to shake surrounding homes and knock items off shelves. It also sent a two-by-four flying through the wall of another home nearby, and the subsequent heat of the blaze was enough to melt vinyl siding on a separate house.
Neighbors Went to Aid of Victims Following Fire and Structure Collapse
David Couch lives one house over from the home that Williams and Bell resided in, and awoke to the sound of what he thought could have been a lightning strike.
The scene he came upon, however, was drastically different.
“The house had completely collapsed,” Couch recalled in an interview with NBC4i.com. He joined forces with other neighbors in the area to help free Williams and Bell from the rubble. “They were shell-shocked, obviously they were hurt, and so we tried to get them to safety, away from the house.
Couch, who has two children ages seven and 10, said that after that rescue, he was grateful both for the safety of his kids and that they were able to free the couple, especially given the severity of the explosion.
“Thanking God every second that, one, my kids were okay, and that we actually found them alive, which, just kind of looking at that damage, it’s just amazing that that actually happened,” Couch said.
Woman Killed, Man Recovering from Injuries After Building Collapsed
Both Williams and Bell were taken to Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, but Williams died from internal injuries at the hospital in the afternoon. She was thrown from the second-floor bedroom during the explosion, and the roof collapsed onto her, trapping her underneath the debris.
Bell was also thrown from the second-floor bedroom but did not have debris fall on top of him during the subsequent building collapse. He said he heard a loud boom that woke him up before the fall. He lay in shock in the driveway after he landed.
“I opened my eyes,” Bell said to The Columbus Dispatch. “And saw a big fireball coming down.”
He rushed to find Williams afterward and located her from her response to his shouts. He was unable to free her from the debris on his own and waited for neighbors to come to their aid. While they waited, he asked her if she was alright. Williams told him that she was badly hurt, but would be okay.
The couple was placed in separate ambulances when emergency personnel arrived. It was the last time Bell saw Williams. Bell’s six-year-old husky, who was believed to have been killed in the explosion, emerged from the debris almost two hours later.
Natural Gas Leak Identified as Factor in Madison Township House Explosion
Authorities did not initially give a cause for the house explosion in Madison Township. State investigators said that, following a preliminary investigation, they believed the explosion was related to a natural gas leak. What was not clear was where the gas leak originated.
Columbia Gas described it as a gas-related “incident,” but offered no further details on the location of the leak.
Previous Complaint About Gas Leaks in Area
A spokesperson with Columbia Gas confirmed that in July of 2014 the utility company received a complaint about a gas odor in the neighborhood where the explosion eventually occurred. Columbia Gas did a follow-up inspection of the area in January of 2015.
Records from the Public Utilities Commission show more frequent complaints, however, with reports that Columbia Gas responded to complaints about gas odors in the area five more times in the six months following July 2014.
A Public Utilities Commission report from February of 2015, quoted by The Columbus Dispatch, said, “The caller states the odor is very strong some days and feels the company is not taking the issue seriously enough.”
No information was given as to whether the eventually-identified leak (classified as a non-hazardous level two) was ever repaired.
Bell himself smelled gas near his house on multiple occasions, even smelling near the meter a week before the explosion, but to no avail.
“I did not call [the gas company],” Bell said. “I’m really, really regretting it now.” He said the reason he didn’t call was that he didn’t smell gas inside the house.
Columbia Gas Issues Statement on Explosion
Columbia Gas released a statement on the Madison Township house explosion after it occurred and in it said that they had shut off the gas in the area, but they released an updated statement following the news that a natural gas leak was related to the explosion.
Our thoughts are with the family and community dealing with the loss and impact of the tragic incident in Madison Township.
In cooperation with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Madison Township Fire Department, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Columbia Gas of Ohio has participated in the investigation of the incident at 3335 Everson Road East.
Our crews have conducted thorough inspections of our service lines and main lines and confirmed they are safe. Based on our inspections and observations to date, we remain confident that our main lines and service lines did not contribute to this incident.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office will continue its investigation to determine the actual cause of the incident. We will continue to support their investigation.