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BREAKING NEWS: Military munitions caused explosion
One man remains critical
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Firefighters spray water on a burning building on Hobson Road in Axton on Thursday evening. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, October 15, 2010

By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer

Thursday's explosion that wounded two men was caused by stored military munitions, according to Henry County Fire Marshal Rodney Howell.

Investigators found an 8-inch-long device that looks like a short missile, with a peaked nose and threads where it was screwed on top of an explosive shell, Howell said Friday evening. The shell was what exploded, and pieces of its casing were found at the scene, he said.

The device, which would normally have been shot out of artillery, was found about 50 feet from the shed where the explosion occurred, he added.

The blast wounded Michael Rafael Venable, 25, and Marcus Shawn Chism, 26. Chism was treated at Memorial Hospital and released. Howell said Saturday that a family member had told him Friday that Venable had died but an official with Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital later him that was not the case.

Venable was in critical condition at the Roanoke hospital Saturday morning, according to a hospital spokesman.

Military experts from Fort Belvoir, Va., were en route to the scene Friday night to assist with the investigation, Howell said.

"It has serial numbers," he said of the missile-type device that was found. "They should be able to tell exactly where it came from."�

Howell would not speculate on the age of the device, how it got in the shed or whether other such munitions were stored there. He did say this is the first time he has found such a device or dealt with the military on such a case.

Following are earlier articles on this story:

Investigators and fire officials from several agencies were at the scene of an explosion in the 3300 block of Hobson Road on Friday morning.

Officials were collecting evidence to try and determine the cause of the incident that injured two men - one critically.

The two "were burning some wood" outside of a smokehouse, said Henry County Fire Marshal Rodney Howell.

The blaze "got away from them and got into the building," Howell said. The explosion occurred shortly thereafter.

Below is the earlier article from Friday's Martinsville Bulletin:

Two men were hurt Thursday, one of them critically, when a fire they were tending reached an old smokehouse and caused an explosion on Hobson Road.

The force of the blast shook nearby houses, witnesses said.

Michael Rafael Venable, 25, and Marcus Shawn Chism, 26, were hurt in the explosion in the area of 3300 Hobson Road, according to Henry County Sheriff's Investigator Mark Winn. Venable was flown to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he was in critical condition late Thursday, according to a hospital spokesman.

Chism was taken to the emergency room at Memorial Hospital in Martinsville with injuries that did not appear life-threatening, Winn said.

An explosives unit with the Virginia State Police was called in to investigate the cause of the explosion, said sheriff's Maj. Steve Eanes. That team, along with the Henry County fire marshal's office, did preliminary work Thursday night and will be on the scene this morning trying to determine the cause of the blast, Eanes said.

The initial investigation showed that "some type of ignitable liquid inside a sealed container" in the smokehouse exploded, said Henry County Fire Marshal Rodney Howell. That will not be confirmed until today, he said.

There was nothing to indicate any criminal intent, Howell added.

The first call about the incident came into the 911 Center at 6:30 p.m. as a brush fire getting out of control, Howell said. Two minutes later, another call came in reporting the explosion, he said.

James Poindexter, who lives a couple of houses from the site, said he was inside eating when he heard something blow up.

"I heard a big boom, and I came out and heard something hit my yard," Poindexter said. He guessed it was debris.

Poindexter said he walked toward the sound and saw Venable lying on his back with injuries to his face and eyes that appeared serious.

Poindexter said Venable, Chism and some other men had been burning debris, including old lumber, before the blast. The blaze made its way to the rundown smokehouse, and that is when the explosion happened, he said.

The smokehouse had been on the site for decades and was falling down to the point that "a good wind would have blown it over," Poindexter said. He wasn't sure what was inside.

Christine Fountain, who lives a bit farther down Hobson Road, said she was in her home when she heard the explosion, which shook her house.

"It knocked the glasses out of my cabinet," Fountain said.

She went outside, where she met many of her neighbors doing the same thing. They also had heard the sound, she said.

"I don't care how far you live, you heard it shake," she said.

When she went outside, she didn't immediately realize that Chism, who is her grandson, was one of the injured, Fountain said. She said he had an injury to his side.

Chism's mother, Eleanor Chism, who also lives nearby, said she called to her son from her front door shortly before she heard the boom.

"Something told me to go to the door," said Eleanor Chism, who was speaking through tears. "I seen that blaze and I hollered for Shawn."�

When he called back to her, she yelled again, she said.

"When I hollered the second time, that's when that sound went off," she said.

Someone at the scene put Shawn Chism in a car and took him to the hospital, his grandmother said. Venable was taken by ambulance.

Poindexter said that section of Hobson Road is a family neighborhood that is "real tight-knit," so everyone knows the injured men. He and Fountain said Chism lives on the road, and Venable has relatives there.

"I watched those boys grow up," Poindexter said. "It's devastating to see something like that."�

Also responding were the Axton Volunteer Fire Department and the Axton Life Saving Crew.

More details will be in Sunday's Martinsville Bulletin.


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