M.E. releases autopsy findings on blast victims

Published: Apr. 13, 2011 at 9:09 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 13, 2011 at 11:31 PM HST
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Three of the five victims.
Three of the five victims.
Inside a bunker.
Inside a bunker.

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

WAIKELE GULCH (HawaiiNewsNow) - Yellow crime scene tape keeps anybody but official investigators about a football field's distance from the blast site in Waikele gulch.

Balloons from a makeshift memorial fluttered in the breeze, tied to the doors of bunker A-21, the storage cave leased by Donaldson Enterprises where explosions and a fire happened Friday. Four men died at the scene. A fifth died in the hospital.

"They're a good tenant. These were the good guys. These were the guys that really knew their stuff," leasing agent Mark Ambard said.

On Wednesday the medical examiner's office released findings on three of the victims.

Autopsies show Kevin Freeman, Neil Sprankle and Justin Kelii inhaled carbon monoxide before they died.

"The levels of carbon monoxide in their systems indicates they took some breaths after they took in the carbon monoxide. But whether it was thirty seconds or three minutes can't be determined," forensic pathologist Dr. Kanthi De Alwis said.

Ambard said the concrete at the entrance of the caves in Waikele is six feet thick. The domes are double-walled.

They were built by Tennessee miners in the 1940s for the military to house munitions.

Ambard said over the years federal and state agencies have asked the leasing company to accommodate storage of explosives and fireworks.

"They'll be some scrutiny with regard to if we rent to these users again. The police and ATF bring them to us, I imagine we're going to cooperate as best we can," he said.

A team from Occupational Safety and Health was on the scene Wednesday, taking measurements outside the bunker.

The autopsy findings don't answer all the questions but they do shed some light on what happened to three of the men when the cave they were working in went up in smoke.

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