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Medina County Officials Address Steam Engine Explosion

Aired July 30, 2001 - 07:30   ET


COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live right now to Medina County, Ohio. A news conference is underway there by the sheriff's department and other officials about that explosion involving an antique steam engine. At least four people dead, dozens of others injured.

Let's listen in to hear what they have to say right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of personal items have been recovered and all of those things have been secured. And as far as the safety of the fairgrounds at this point, the area has been scanned by officials and directors throughout the night -- all night long so that we can open the fair safely this morning and that's our intent.

But as far as the safety and security of the grounds, the sheriff's department and the city police are handling that and the scene itself. We've treated it as a crime scene the entire night and investigators have been working through the night to accomplish their goals.

So I'll refer anything else that you may have in regards to the fair to our fair board president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If anybody had any questions, we'll be glad to answer the questions for you or we'll try to with the information we have.

QUESTION: Was anyone on the scene -- were any of you there when this happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in the area when the explosion occurred. In fact, I had followed that thrashing machine down the street because I was actually at a store picking up some items for the security committee and, in fact, was behind that harvester as it approached the fairgrounds.

QUESTION: What was the sound like?

QUESTION: Can you tell us if a steam engine needs to be inspected before it comes to the fairgrounds? Does it have to go -- undergo any kind of inspection before it's allowed to come on the grounds? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know whether that's required by the state for inspections on steam boilers or not. I have no knowledge of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as we know, there's no inspections on these -- on this type of an implement as far as we've been able to find out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In actuality, that type of machine -- I mean that is something that a collector puts together and refurbishes. And so only the operator or the owner of that particular piece of equipment knows any of the safety problems or any concerns with that equipment so it's really up to them. This particular equipment was driven onto the grounds, which was unusual, because it's usually car carried onto the grounds.

QUESTION: Would you be allowing other steam engines that are parked out there to do another demonstration that -- like the one last night or are they being told to just be a static display?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We usually only have static displays. This particular -- this engine that blew up was not operating on the grounds. He, in fact, had driven on the grounds and was still coming in to the grounds so it wasn't -- it wasn't a function of the fair at that point.

QUESTION: Is this the only one like it?


QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) that machine was not supposed to be where it was. It was on pavement. It should have been on the dirt road. Was it at an improper position when it exploded?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it was on the grounds and it was being positioned, which would be normal.

QUESTION: We understand he was in the process of being cited for driving on the pavement when he should have been on the...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officers were talking to the individual about driving on the streets with it and that's about all we'd comment on for that.

QUESTION: Have you...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) officers were hurt at the time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those two officers are also injured and are in the hospital.

QUESTION: As far as injuries are concerned, do you know how many people still have life-threatening injuries?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe -- no, we don't -- we don't know those numbers today right this morning. We know there was -- there was numerous that were very serious injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're looking at approximately 49 people that were actually injured that we can account for at this point. We may have further today that actually walked out that we were unaware of, but we know at least 49 that were injured at this point.

QUESTION: In light of the 4 that were killed and the 49 injured, why are you opening the fair with this dark cloud hanging over this event?


DAVE BERTRAM, PRESIDENT, MEDINA COUNTY FAIR BOARD: The board met last night and came to a decision that we should continue on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'd almost ask the same question, why not? It's a situation that's very unfortunate, certainly, and it's a -- it's a limited area of the grounds. It hasn't -- it's nothing that is going to operate as far as the wrongful safety of the fair-goer or anything like that. There's a lot of planning that goes into putting on this fair and we want people to be able to come and enjoy the fair for the week. This is a very unfortunate incident that has occurred and our hearts go out to those families for that.


QUESTION: Some would say this is disrespectful to those (OFF- MIKE)

QUESTION: Help someone understand who isn't used to this kind of fair why you would maybe not shut it down the first day just in honor of those who died or just to give people a breather from this devastating thing that happened?


BERTRAM: A lot of the livestock is here. We're still going to have to have people here regardless of what goes on but they still have to take care of what's here. And last night the board felt that we should go on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we'd be honoring those families by continuing with the fair as opposed to canceling a fair or a fair day because of it. Those people were a part of our fair. The people that have died have been close to many of us on this board and a lot of those reasonings go into the same reason for having a fair continue and go on.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about Mr. Kovacic and some of the other people that you have worked (OFF-MIKE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I don't want to go into it in too much detail. You know Dave Bertram, our board president, knows those gentlemen even better than I because he was close to them in the antique power -- Dave.

BERTRAM: They were great supporters of the fair. They do a lot of the things behind the scenes as well as they took great pride in bringing those engines to the fairgrounds for display. That was their pride and joy. They just loved to show that equipment off so people could see what had transpired over the years in the way of development of equipment.

QUESTION: You say yourself...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you have a maintenance problem with that particular engine that you were aware of?

BERTRAM: I have...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know that yet and we won't know until we get involved with the people that put it together and talk to them so we really can't answer that.

QUESTION: Would you say it take...

QUESTION: Had it driven onto the fairgrounds in the past?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not -- we don't think so. That's usually been carried on in a car hauler or a vehicle hauler.

QUESTION: Sheriff,...


QUESTION: You say it will take about...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) any charges at all in this?

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: No. No, I don't see where there'll be any charges against anybody.

QUESTION: You say it will take several days or weeks to...


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) determining what caused this, who would you be bringing in to determine what caused the explosion and how would that be done? Could you enlighten us in any way on that?

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: On what caused the explosion on the steam engine? We're going to try to contact some people who had the expertise in this type of equipment and have them go over the equipment and hopefully they'll be able to tell us something about it. QUESTION: Is that primarily what the investigation will be, talking to experts, or what else will you have to do in the next several days or weeks?

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: There's going to be numerous things we're going to be doing besides that. We're going to be trying to find witnesses who may have been in there who left on their own. We're going to try and find any information at all. In fact, basically we'll handle it as any other major investigation. We'll just leave nothing unturned that we can possibly humanly do. We'll do everything we can to find out the information.

QUESTION: Will there be (OFF-MIKE) modification to procedures...


QUESTION: To the fair director, can you comment on what happened last year with the E. coli?

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: I'm sorry, would you...

QUESTION: Any kind of modification to the procedure as to whether or not you're going to let this kind of equipment continue to come to the fair?

BERTRAM: We'll have to sit down and review what the sheriff comes up with and make a determination from there. We haven't had time to think about that one.


UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: These steam engines are probably at every fair in Ohio as far as -- any fair I've ever been too you see this type of a steam engine at it. In fact, I believe there are even steam engine shows in Ohio where they focus just strictly on steam engines. So it's a piece of equipment that's a part of the heritage of the -- of the original agricultural people in our -- in our area. So it's not an unusual piece of equipment. It's something that's been with us for years and years.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how many years this particular engine has been a part of the fair?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know. We couldn't tell you how many years this particular engine has been there. But as the sheriff said, I mean this is a piece of equipment that, in fact, is the steam driven threshing machine and it is -- it's a part of our heritage.

QUESTION: Well considering its age, was there ever any concern about its safety -- that this particular...

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: There was a couple of these engines that actually have been used on a farm in this community in this county this year. We've had people tell us that they were using it on the farm to try it out. Whether this is one of them, I'm not sure on that yet. We will know shortly. QUESTION: With what happened last year with the E. coli, can you comment on whether that was part of your decision to keep the fair open today? And are you concerned that two events in two years might distort the reputation of the fair?

BERTRAM: We're concerned but the E. coli had nothing to do with this event.

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: And also these -- the E. coli and this explosion was really something that was out of the hands of anybody, whether it be you, whether it be the fair board. It's just -- it's amazing and incredible that happened to us here and it's something that's been difficult on everyone in Medina County.

We've also lost one of our strongest members who died just a few weeks back -- Kenny Albright (ph), so we've taken some direct hits here at this fair. But the people of Medina County are very, very strong people and I think you're going to see that the people of this county want to continue moving -- that we've been knocked down but we're not down to stay and we'll get back up and we'll keep moving.


UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: We haven't even had time to think about that. I'm sure it's something the fair board will discuss and the community will discuss because most of us sitting here were friends of these men who died at the scene. We all knew them and we associated with them, so it's not only a professional job we're doing but it's very personal to each one of us sitting here.

QUESTION: I understand two of the injured were two Medina city policemen. I believe they're both now at Akron Children's, is that correct? Any (OFF-MIKE) condition?

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: Yes, they're both in hospitals in Akron, but I don't have an update yet this morning.

QUESTION: Gentlemen, do you feel confident enough in the safety of this fair to bring your families here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family will be here today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family will be here.


QUESTION: And is it -- the delays last night delay any of the start up today? I mean will everything be able to start on time at 9:00?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dave, do you want to comment on that?

BERTRAM: Probably we'll have a slight delay, but we've had to wait until other -- we had to get the rides in before we could get some of the other concessionaires set up. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are backing up entries and we are allowing late entries to come in because we had to cancel some entries last night for some of the exhibitors and things like that because their concern was too many people on the grounds and too many things going on. So we'll honor those timetables.

MCEDWARDS: All right, you have been watching a news conference live. Medina County Ohio Sheriff's Department officials and others saying that the fair will open today. They feel confident the fair grounds are safe after that explosion of a steam engine on Sunday night. People there grieving this morning for the four people killed and some 49 others who were injured. Apparently overnight, they said officials treated the area as a crime scene, scanned it, did the investigating they need to do. Still no more word on the cause or anything like that, but officials saying they believe the fairgrounds are now safe.



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