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Monday, August 21, 2000

Pecos River pipeline blast leaves 10 dead

From Staff and Wire Reports

PECOS, August 21, 2000 - The cause of a pipeline blast on the Pecos River just north of Red Bluff Lake that killed 10 New Mexico campers may not be known until sometime next year, National Transportation Safety Board officials said today.

The 10, all adults and children from the Carlsbad, Loving and Artesia, N.M. areas, were camping at a site along the river, two miles north of the Texas-New Mexico state line, when the explosion occurred about 5:45 a.m. CDT on Saturday.

The explosion on the Pecos River just before dawn swept flames down the river's banks and through tents where two families had been camping. Five children were among those killed.

The only survivors, a man and his daughter-in-law, were in critical condition Monday at a Lubbock hospital.

Officials described the ruptured pipeline as a massive flame-thrower that showered burning fuel on the victims. The explosion generated heat so intense that sand melted into glass and concrete turned to powder, a federal investigator said.

The explosion was at first mistaken for a range fire when the blaze was called in to Reeves County emergency personnel shortly before 6 a.m. The Pecos Volunteer Fire Department was called out to the scene of the blast, but was called back to town about half an hour later.

"We responded with two units, but we didn't quite make it there, we were called back, because it was across the state line," said Fire Chief Roy Pena.

National Transportation Safety Board Investigator John Hammerschmidt said it likely would take several months to determine what caused the rupture in the 30-inch-diameter pipe.

"We'll be looking for any areas of human error that might have occurred or even organizational error," he said.

NTSB official Keith Holloway said this morning the explosion occurred "about two or three miles inside the New Mexico state line," near the area where the Delaware River merges with the Pecos River.

Holloway said six NTSB investigators have been sent to the site, and a report could take "nine months to a year" to complete.

NTSB investigators found at least three sections of the pipe that had been blown from the ground. The explosion, at a point about 6 feet underground, carved out a crater 86 feet long, 46 feet wide and 20 feet deep.

"There is no indication it was third-party damage or foul play," said John Somerhalder, president of the pipeline group for El Paso Energy Co. "This was a very major tragedy."

Pena stated that the Pecos fire units came within about 30 miles from the scene and could see the flames on the northeast side of U.S 285.

"We could see the smoke and flames from where we were, but we were called back," said Pena.

Pena said at first the dispatcher didn't know exactly what was going on, because a passing motorist was reporting the incident. "They were trying to get a hold of someone in that county, but they didn't what the incident was at first," he said. "They called me at home at about 5:55 a.m. and we quickly responded."

Pena responded to the incident with two units and about 12 individuals. "We were ready to help, but then they said they had found some people from those surrounding counties," said Pena.

Pena and the Pecos group traveled about 20 miles and were within 30 miles of the incident. "From where we were we could see all the smoke and it was really big," he said. "It looked really bad."

"We got to the other side of the cutoff of Mentone, but we weren't even close and already we could see the flames and smoke," he said.

The victims were members of two extended families from Carlsbad, Artesia and Loving, all in southeastern New Mexico, who had been camping along the river in an unmarked but popular camping site for fishermen, police said.

Some had been fishing along the river's banks, their lanterns set up to light their way, officials said. Others had been asleep. Officials said they would have had no chance to escape the flash of fire that caught them between the river and the ruptured gas line.

Six people died at the scene and three died Saturday night at University Medical Center in Lubbock. A 5-year-old girl died late Saturday en route by air ambulance to Shriners Hospital in Galveston, Texas.

Those who died at Lubbock were Roy Lee Heady, 20, wife Amy, 18, of Artesia, and Glenda Sumler, 47, of Loving. Kirsten Sumler, 5, was pronounced dead on arrival in Galveston. She was Glenda Sumler's granddaughter.

The Headys' three girls, 22-month-old Kelsey and 6-month-old twins Timber and Tamber, died in the explosion. Also killed at the campsite were Terry Smith, 23, son, Dustin, 3, and father-in-law Don Sumler.

Bobby Smith, 43, and daughter-in-law, Amanda Smith, 25, of Carlsbad, survived. Amanda Smith, Terry Smith's wife, is Kirsten Sumler's mother.

State police Capt. John Balderston said the campsite was not in a developed camping area but has been popular with local residents because it provides easy access to the Pecos River.

"They were there to enjoy the shade the bridge offered," Balderston said.

One survivor recalled being awakened by shouts to find herself and everything around her on fire, said Balderston. She jumped in the river, and then found she couldn't get back to the children because of the flames.

The fire burned 40 minutes to an hour before dying out when fuel was cut off to the area.

Near the river's edge, investigators found sleeping bags and melted geometric shapes that once were tents. Three charred pickup trucks looked as though they had taken a direct hit from a bomb.

"This is a tragedy that words don't describe," Gov. Gary Johnson said as he toured the blast site Sunday. "This is grief unimaginable."

There are "concerns with pipeline safety, obviously," Johnson said, and there may be a regulatory role for the state, but it's too soon to say what action might be taken. He said investigators first must determine what went wrong.

Hammerschmidt said Sunday that the NTSB already has a proposal on pipeline safety before Congress. "We think improvements can be made in pipeline safety in general," he said.

The pipeline was installed in 1950. It was last checked Aug. 2, company spokeswoman Norma Dunn said.

The pipeline explosion was the second major blast in the area in the past nine months. In November 1999 two truck drivers were injured, one critically, when their vehicles were blown off the highway when a liquid propane transmission line operated by Rio Grande Pipeline Co., exploded on U.S. 62-180, just outside Salt Flat, about 110 miles northwest of Pecos and 60 miles west of Saturday's explosion site. The explosion also engulfed a pipeline operated by Chevron USA, which supplies crude oil to the company's El Paso refinery.

According to the El Paso Times, a pocket of gas that had built up from the leaking pipeline was ignited when two westbound school buses carrying about 20 children passed by, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper said at the scene. The children were not harmed, but the two trucks driving behind the buses were engulfed in flames, he said.

Police seeking cause of death of Pecos man

Staff Writer

PECOS, August 21, 2000 - Police are still waiting word on the cause of death of a Pecos man, who died this weekend after being transported from his home to the Reeves County Hospital.

Pecos Police Officers were dispatched to 1104 South Elm Street at 8:44 p.m., on Friday, August 18 for assistance.

When officers arrived they found Jesus Hinojos, Jr., 41; unconscious then immediately called for ambulance assistance.

"The officers conducted CPR until the ambulance crew arrived and transported him to the hospital," Police Chief Clay McKinney said.

Hinojos was transported to the hospital where, according to emergency room staff, he was admitted and later died.

The family declined to comment on his death at this time.

McKinney said the police is unaware of the cause of death but will investigate the incident further.

Hinojos was a lifelong resident of Pecos and was a United States Army Veteran as well as a member of the Assembly of God Church.

Services for Hinojos will be held at 11 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 22, at the Pecos Funeral Home Chapel with Matt Williamson officiating. Burial will be in Barstow Cemetery.

Counties may be added to bee quarantine

Staff Writer

PECOS, August 21, 2000 - A lot of West Texas counties are already under quarantine for Africanized bees, however, Reeves and Loving counties are not included in that quarantine.

"The way they are moving, though, we might be included in that quarantine soon," said Reeves County Extension Agent Terry Holder.

An elderly woman was killed by a swarm of bees last month in Carlsbad, N.M., 85 miles north of Pecos, while an elderly couple was injured two weeks ago on the west side of Pecos when they were stung by a swarm of bees. But Holder said as of now, it hasn't been determined if they were the regular honey bees or "Africanized Bees."

"The only way you know the difference is by sending them off," said Holder. "And I don't know if anybody did."

Holder said while many West Texas counties are under quarantine, Reeves and Loving are the only ones that are not. "That could change though," said Holder. "There are 121 counties for Africanized bees and they may be here before long."

Under quarantine rules, bees cannot be transported from one county to another for use in pollinating crops except under specific guidelines. Currently, bees used for pollination in Coyanosa or Barstow could not be transported to pollinate fields around Pecos, because both those towns are in counties under the quarantine.

"They're the same species as honeybees, a different race," said District Entomologist Mark Muegge, of the Africanized bees. He added they are no more poisonous or venomous, but they're dangerous.

"But regular honey bees can be dangerous also," said Muegge.

The Africanized bees are more aggressive, it doesn't take long to set them off and their sting is worse. "They sting much quicker and travel in more numbers," said Muegge.

Africanized bees will also chase further, according to Muegge.

With Africanized bees, you have to be more precautious, because a swarm can be found in a tree or will nest anywhere in the home.

"If you get up close to it and disturb their nest they will attack viciously," said Mugge. "And it doesn't take much to set them off," he said.

Vibrations, such as that of a lawnmower, will also set them off, according to Mugge.

These bees also travel frequently. "When you see a swarm it's because they have left the original nest, because it's gotten too big and the queen bee has taken them to form a new nest," he said.

To get rid of a "nest," or swarm, a qualified pest control operator is required. "We generally tell people to get a qualified pest control operator, but if they want to do it themselves, they can, but they need to take precautions," he said.

Muegge said they aren't required to get rid of these nests, but can advise people on how to.

"We always suggest to take all the precautions they can and make sure and follow all the rules," said Muegge. "And never try to do it alone," he said.

Some things to remember said Muegge, is that Africanized and honeybees look the same, so stay away from all bees.

Africanized bees will build a nest almost anywhere; if you know of any wild bee nests, have the nest removed; Africanized bees defend a wide area around their home, so you may not even see the hive before bees start buzzing around you; large numbers of Africanized bees likely to sting when they sense someone is too near their nest; if you get stung or hear bees buzzing, run away fast and get inside a house or car, if there is no shelter, run through bushes or high weeds and a honey bee will leave its stinger in your skin if it stings you. Get the stinger out by raking your fingernail across it. Don't pinch or pull the stinger out. Put ice on a sting to reduce the swelling.

The Africanized honeybee, popularly known as the "killer bee," moved into South Texas and the southern United States in the mid-1990s. Scientists are not certain how far north the bee will spread, but they do know that it will cause problems wherever it resides in large numbers.

This insect, which has been migrating from South America since the 1950's, looks just like a domestic honey bee, but it is not nearly as good natured.

"I don't really know how they can tell the difference, because you do need to send them off to a specialist," said Holder. "They look just exactly alike," he said.

The domestic bee has lived in harmony with human beings for hundreds of years. It has been bred for gentleness and good honey production.

By contrast, the Africanized bee is a "wild" bee that is not comfortable being around people or animals. Any colony of bees will defend its hive, but Africanized bees do so with gusto. These bees are more likely to sense a threat at greater distances, become more upset with less reason, and sting in much greater numbers.

"That couple in Pecos that had the bees in their home, something must have set them off, such as a dog or movement of some kind," said Muegge.

The Africanized bee's "killer" reputation is greatly exaggerated, but it does have some basis in fact. In isolated instances, people and animals have been stung to death. Most often, the person who died was not able to get away from the bees quickly. Animal losses have occurred for the same reasons. Pets and livestock were tied up or penned when they encountered the bees.

However, Africanized bees do not roam in giant swarms looking for victims to attack. Like most animals, these bees react defensively only when they feel threatened.

Because honeybees provide 80 percent of the pollination required by agricultural crops, a reduction in the number of beekeepers could lead to reduced yields in melons and other commodities as well as a decline in honey production.

Beekeepers are working closely with state and federal agencies to minimize the impacts of the Africanized bee.

The best protection against the Africanized bee is to understand how it behaves and react accordingly. Bees "swarm" to establish new hives in the spring and fall. Bees are most active then. You may find bees setting up housekeeping where you live literally overnight. Individual bees gathering pollen on flowers or masses of bees clinging together in swarms generally will not bother you. However, bees are more likely to be defensive after they have established a colony and started raising young.

Hospital board to study budget at meeting

PECOS, August 21, 2000 - Reeves County Hospital Board members will discuss the 2000 Budget for the hospital during a hearing as part of their regular meeting set for 6 p.m., Tuesday in the classroom at the hospital.

The Board will also discuss the 2000 Operating and Capital budget as well at the calculation of the effective and rollback tax rate.

They will set a tax rate at the meeting as well.

Other topics of discussion will be a joint conference committee report and the monthly tax collection and the financial reports.

The Board will get an update on the Main Street Project and the Hospital District Exemptions and approve bill payments.

William Meshel, MD will be considered, by the Board, for appointment to the consulting staff and clinical privileges in Emergency Medicine.


Brawley Beauchamp

Brawley Beauchamp, 83, of Pecos, died Friday, Aug. 18, 2000, at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa.

Graveside services were held at 10 a.m., today, at Mt. Evergreen Cemetery with Rev. Greer Willis officiating.

He was born Nov. 27, 1916, in Pecos, was retired from the Texas Department of Transportation, was a United States Veteran who served in the Navy in World War II, a lifetime Pecos native, and a Baptist. He had been a member of the Pecos Volunteer Fire Department for many years.

He was preceded in death by one son, Bob Beauchamp in 1998.

Survivors include his wife, Deenie Beauchamp of Pecos and a host of nieces and nephews.

Pecos Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Alvaro V. Bejarano

Alvaro V. Bejarano, 74, died Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2000, at his resident in Hatch, N.M.

Mass was held at 10 a.m., today, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Saragosa with burial in Saragosa Cemetery.

He was born Feb. 10, 1926, in Ruidosa, was farm laborer, longtime New Mexico resident and a Catholic.

Survivors include three brothers, Benino Bejarano of Dallas, Eugenio Bejarano of Pecos and Merehildo Bejarano of Balmorhea; six sisters, Maria Lydia Alvidrez and Pabla Alvidrez of Seminole, Belia Rodriguez of Saragosa, Simona Rocha of Carlsbad, N.M., Josefa Madril of Odessa and Amalia Bejarano of Pecos.

Martinez Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Jesse Hinojos, Jr.

Jesse Evaro Hinojos, Jr., 41, of Pecos, died Friday, Aug. 18, 2000, at Reeves County Hospital.

Services will be held at 11 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 22, at the Pecos Funeral Home Chapel with Matt Williamson officiating. Burial will be in Barstow Cemetery.

He was born July 27, 1959, in Pecos, was a United States Army veteran, a laborer, a lifetime Pecos resident and a member of the Assembly of God Church.

Survivors include his wife, Beatrice B. Hinojos of Pecos; two sons, Jayson and Jeremy Hinojos of Pecos; four daughters, Marissa and Nikki Hinojos of Glendale, Ariz., Jennifer and Breanna Hinojos of Pecos; his mother Pilar E. Garza of Tempe, Ariz., his father, Jesse Hinojos of Pecos; two brothers, Armando Hinojos of Pecos and Raul Hinojos of Phoenix, Ariz.; four sisters, Gloria Guebara of Pecos, Beatriz Delgado of Rialto, Calif., Elida Hinojos of Phoenix, Ariz. and Michelle Hinojos of Phoenix, Ariz.

Pecos Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

L.E. Northcutt

L.E. "Karo" Northcutt, 46, of Wink, died Sunday, Aug. 20, 2000, at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa.

Services will be at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 22, at the First United Methodist Church in Kermit, with Reverend Beth Harrington officiating. Burial will be in Kermit Cemetery.

He was born in Wink, was an oil rig supervisor for Key Energy, and was a Methodist and a lifetime resident of Wink.

He was preceded in death by his father Charlie Northcutt in 1996.

Survivors include his wife, Bobbie Jo Northcutt of Wink; his mother, Betty Northcutt of Wink; one son, Brandon Northcutt of Wink; one daughter, Kristy Carrell of Monahans; four brothers, Curtiss Northcutt of Andrews, Robert Northcutt of San Angelo, James Northcutt of Odessa, Kevin Northcutt of Midland and five grandchildren.

Cooper Funeral Chapel of Kermit is in charge of arrangements.

Charles Sullivan

Charles Eugene Sullivan, 60, of Pecos, died Thursday, Aug. 17, 2000, at Odessa Medical Center Hospital.

Graveside services were held at 2 p.m., today, at Philfer Cemetery in Camden, Tenn.

He was born Oct. 26, 1939, in Tennessee, had lived in Pecos since 1975, was a retired truck driver for East Texas Motor Freight and was a Methodist.

Survivors include his wife, Juanita Sullivan of Pecos; one daughter, Terri Long of Hernando, Miss.; one son, Patrick Sullivan of Olive Branch, Miss.; one stepdaughter, of Catherine McCreary of Springtown; one stepson, Daniel Lewis of Austin; one sister, Helen Sullivan of Jackson, Tenn. and four grandchildren.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.

Pecos Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.


PECOS, August 21, 2000 - High Sunday 103. Low this morning 63. Forecast for tonight: Tonight: Clear skies. Low in the upper 60s. Southeast wind 5-10 mph. Tuesday: Sunny. High 97-100. Southeast wind 10-15 mph. Tuesday night: Mostly clear. Low in the upper 60s. Wednesday: Partly cloudy and fair at night. Low 65-70. High in the mid to upper 90s.

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