State Issues Fines, Citations In Deadly Ocracoke Explosion

State investigators say they found a pack a cigarettes and a butane lighter two feet from a truck full of fireworks that blew up this summer, killing four people.

The state labor department has cited Melrose South Pyrotechnics for nine serious violations and two listed as non-serious for the July 4th explosion on Ocracoke. The company has been fined $44,800.

Four people were killed in the explosion, many who attended the same Goldsboro church. Mark Hill, Terry Holland, Charles Kirkland Junior, and Lisa Simmons died in the blast. Holland was the maintenance director for the Lords Table Church, Kirkland was the son of the church's care pastor and Simmons was identified as a parishioner.

The only survivor of the explosion, was Marquez Holland, nephew of Terry Holland.

The state says there were 680 pounds of fireworks in a rental truck that blew up. The labor department says workers were in the back of the truck assembling electronic matches into fuses when the accident happened.

One of the violations says employees were permitted to "introduce possible ignition sources" such as a lighter within 50 feet of where the fireworks were located. The state says a pack of cigarettes and a butane lighter were found two feet from the rear corner of the rental truck containing the fireworks.

Another violation says a motorcycle type battery was found on the rear floor of the truck, another possible source of ignition. A third possible source of ignition was spark producing tools that employees were allowed to use.

The state also claims the company did not provide personal protective equipment to minimize the generation of static electricity to its employees.

Until now, Melrose South Pyrotechnics had no violations in North Carolina, but had been cited in South Carolina for one previous safety violation. A 2001 explosion at its plant near Rock Hill, S.C., killed a 24-year-old seasonal employee and injured two workers. In a settlement with the state, the company agreed to pay a reduced fine of $20,750 without acknowledging any wrongdoing.

Two years ago, two employees were hurt during a fireworks show at Fort Stewart, Ga. Officials blamed a firework that detonated prematurely and started a chain reaction.

The South Carolina-based company has 15 business days to appeal the state's decision.

The accident caused state lawmakers to tighten safety rules for fireworks. Handlers must now pass an exam, take training and have assisted in other fireworks shows before they can obtain a North Carolina permit to set up a show.

WITN left a message with Melrose South Pyrotechnics for comment, but so far the company has not called us back.

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