Four men killed, about 50 injured when tractor explodes at Ohio fairground
MEDINA, Ohio (AP) – Investigators on Monday focused on the possible failure of a safety device as the reason an antique steam-powered tractor exploded at a fairground and killed four men and injured 50 people.
The blast, which hurled hot oil and shrapnel up to 100 yards, came on the eve of the opening of the 156th Medina County Fair, an annual event that drew 120,000 people last year. It is one of Ohio’s oldest and largest county fairs.
The fair opened as planned on Monday but admission started two hours later than scheduled so organizers could finish setting up.
Grace Fulton waited in line for the gates to open so she could watch her eight grandchildren show their animals.
”This is a farming community and they know the safety that has to be in place,” said Fulton, 64, of Seville, whose family has a 900-acre dairy farm.
Eighteen-year-old Dave Compston spent the night at the fairgrounds, where he was exhibiting six cows.
”I don’t think I have anything to worry about; it’s just an accident,” said Compston, of Wooster.
The tractor that exploded was to be part of an outdoor exhibit on steam-powered engines. The vintage equipment is a common feature at county fairs across the Midwest.
Sheriff Neil Hassinger said no one would be charged in the blast but he said investigators would examine the remnants of the tractor, built in 1918.
”We’ll just leave nothing unturned,” he said.
The investigation would be complicated because the operators of the equipment were killed, authorities said.
”We lost the expertise,” said James R. Bigam, a fairgrounds director and head of security.
Bigam said investigators were focusing on possible failure of a steam escape valve or other device as the cause of the blast. ”Some safety device didn’t work,” he said.
A relative of one of the victims said the machine had problems a few days earlier.
At least 16 people remained at six hospitals Monday. Conditions ranged from good to serious.
The fair, about 25 miles southwest of Cleveland, was open Sunday only for horse races and setting up exhibits, although the gates were open to all.
”It sounded like a big boom. I heard all kinds of people crying, people screaming,” said Brian Witt, 15, of Medina, who suffered burns to his arms and face.
About 50 people were injured, and fairgoers rushed to aid bloodied and blackened victims. ”Everybody was just trying to help everybody out,” said nurse Patty Potts.
The injured included two police officers who were about to cite the tractor’s driver for operating the heavy vehicle on city streets, Fire Chief Bill Herthneck said. The officers were standing by the engine and talking to the driver when the explosion happened about 6:30 p.m., he said.
The dead were identified as Cliff Kovacic, 45; his son, William, 27; Alan Kimble, 46; and Dennis Jungbluth, 58, all Medina County residents.
Kimble’s niece, Sarah Kimble, 19, said Kovacic owned the tractor and sometimes operated it on a farm owned by her uncle and father in Litchfield.
The tractor that exploded previously had problems, she said. ”A few days before, they were plowing they had some problems with the larger one – the one that exploded. I’m not sure what the problem was,” she said.
The injured suffered mostly burns and broken bones, said Gene Sulzener, director of the Medina Life Support Team, which coordinates county emergency medical services.
Last year, about 30 people who attended the fair or a later attraction at the fairgrounds became ill with E. coli, an intestinal bacterium that causes cramps, diarrhea and, in extreme cases, kidney failure. No one died.
A report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that water and ice used by food vendors may have become contaminated by water from the animal barns.
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