Pipeline Blast Kills Texas Officer

Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — A cloud of natural gas burst into a fireball after a pipeline was ruptured, killing a police officer and injuring a woman living nearby.

A 12-inch propane pipeline owned by Exxon Mobil Corp. was believed to have been ruptured by a bulldozer Thursday afternoon, Sgt. Carol Taylor of the Taylor County Sheriff's Office said.

A sheriff's deputy apparently tried to flag down two vehicles before they reached the cloud of propane that spewed across State Highway 36, Taylor said. But one of the two vehicles ignited the cloud.

``Unless you have seen that before, you really don't know what you are driving into,'' Taylor said.

Jay Hatcher, 42, a criminal investigator for the Abilene Police Department, was caught up in the fireball as he drove home from work. He died early Friday at University Medical Center in Lubbock. The driver of the other vehicle, a semitrailer, managed to escape uninjured.

The blast also engulfed the home of Rita Franssen, who called authorities before the blast reporting that she smelled the gas. Franssen escaped from her home before it went up. She was listed in stable condition Friday morning at Abilene Regional Medical Center.

The ruptured pipeline continued to belch flames Friday morning.

The pipeline was sealed shortly after the blast, and authorities planned to let the remaining gas burn off, Taylor said. Authorities estimated gas could continue to seep from the pipeline for the remainder of the day.