2 survive blast
An explosion at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at a North Arkansas Electric Cooperative sub-station in Mountain Home has claimed the lives of two area men and left two other men in critical condition.
Desi Jones, 41, and Ivey Hodge, 59, both of Mountain Home, died as a result of severe burns and other injuries sustained in the blast which occurred while they were removing a regulator in the Baxter sub-station on Highway 201 North.
Two other men -- Jessie Zimmer, 27, and Chris Hickman, 26 -- were seriously injured in the blast while assisting Jones and Hodge.
"We have never had anything of this magnitude happen to us," NAEC CEO Mel Coleman said.
Zimmer and Hickman were transported by helicopter from the sub-station to St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield. Jones and Hodge were taken to Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home because of the severity of their injuries. "They (Jones and Hodge) needed immediate medical attention," officials at the NAEC said.
Jones and Hodge were later transferred from Baxter Regional to St. John's after the two were stabilized. Jones died at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night. Hodge died at 5 a.m. Sept 2.
"Ivey (Hodge) and Desi (Jones) were among the finest employees we've ever had at North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and among the finest men I've ever known," said Coleman. He said his thoughts and prayers were with both men's families at this time.
Desi Jones' funeral was held Sept. 3 in Salem. Ivey Hodges' funeral was Sept. 5 in Mountain Home.
Zimmer was listed in extremely critical condition and Hickman was listed in serious condition as of press time.
Coleman said Hickman's injuries were less severe than the other crew members. He said Hickman is expected to be released from the hospital in three to four weeks and make a full recovery.
Zimmers' injuries were more severe. "We're all praying for Jessie. God knows how much we (at the Coop) and the people in this community love and care about him," said Coleman.
Emergency personnel from Baxter Regional Medical Center Ambulance Service, Air Evac Lifeteam, the St. John's Lifeline air ambulance. Baxter County Sheriff's Department, the Mountain Home Fire Department and the Baxter County first responders assisted after the explosion.
A spokeswoman from NAEC said the exact cause and circumstances of the explosion are under investigation.
Coleman said published reports of an electrical arch starting the fire are unconfirmed. He said a published report stating a transformer blew up in the substation is false.
Officials at the Baxter County Sheriff's Department said the department is not assisting in NAEC internal investigation. Baxter County Sheriff Joe Edmonds said the incident appears to be an accident.
According to a NAEC spokeswoman, Hodge and his crew were working on a regulator in the sub-station in preparation for a scheduled blackout in the Mallard Point area when the accident occurred.
She said Hodge, the District 1 superintendent and a 26-year veteran at NAEC, had an exemplary safety record. She said Jones, a crew foreman with 17 years of experience at NAEC, had an excellent safety record too.
Zimmer and Hickman are both line technicians with NAEC. Zimmer has been with the company for 7 years and Hickman 4 years.
"We are absolutely devastated by this event," Coleman said.
Approximately 8,000 residents lost power when the explosion occurred. Service was returned to all residences by 10 p.m. Tuesday. Coleman said it was difficult for crews to make repairs to the sub-station after the explosion.
He said the last NAEC fatality occurred in 1975. Last year two men were killed in other coops around the state, Coleman said.
Members from the Arkansas Crisis Response Team met with NAEC employees and families Sept. 1 to help them deal with the tragedy. Coleman said the Arkansas Crisis Response Team will council employees after Labor Day.
Officials at NAEC said a fund has been set up at the cooperative to assist the families affected by the explosion.
"We appreciate the outpouring of community support in this time of need for the victims and their families," Coleman said.