Explosion in house kills one

Gas leak suspected as cause in blast

Millersville woman killed in explosion

July 12, 2000|By Nancy Youssef and Rafael Alvarez | Nancy Youssef and Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

A 72-year-old Anne Arundel County woman died last night and two others were injured in an apparent propane explosion at the family's house in the 300 block of Poplar Road in Millersville.

Anne Arundel County fire officials said Betty Sawyer was thrown from the split-level house - which was destroyed - into the front yard about 7:10 p.m. last night and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Also injured in the blast were Sawyer's husband, Robert, 74, and the couple's 40-year-old son, Thomas Nelson Sawyer - known as Nelson - who family members said was doing work in the basement when the explosion occurred.

Both Robert and Nelson Sawyer were flown by helicopter to the burn unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. Their conditions were not available last night.

"I saw the house - it blew up from the inside," said Derric Schaefer, 19, who was eating dinner at his house across the street when the explosion occurred. "The house swelled. It looked like a balloon. It happened in an instant, but it seemed like slow motion."

Derric and his father, Fred, ran over after the explosion to help their neighbors.

"I was holding her hand, telling her to fight, to fight," Derric said of Mrs. Sawyer, saying that she was bleeding profusely. The victim was a retired postal employee.

Hearing noise behind the house, Fred Schaefer, 52, ran around to find the elder Mr. Sawyer, a former carrier for The Sun, in a pile of rubble.

"We kept yelling, `Is anyone here?' Bob said, `I'm here,'" Fred Schaefer said. "We found him under all of this insulation. His shirt was on fire. He kept saying, `Where's my wife? Where's my wife?'"

"It sounded like a train crash. It blew our front door open," said Linda Sawyer, the couple's daughter-in-law, who lives across the street from the damaged house with her husband, Ken.

Fire officials said they believe that Nelson Sawyer, who works for the U.S. Postal Service in Annapolis, was apparently ventilating a leak in a propane tank when the explosion occurred. He was found in the basement of the home, trying to extricate himself from the rubble.

One paramedic suffered minor injuries to his hand and wrist during the rescue.

Neighbors said the Sawyer family used propane to run a hot-water heater in a community that is not connected to the county's water and sewer system.

Houses in the neighborhood, where the Sawyers were one of the original residents and built several homes for their children, are said to be worth between $165,000 and $300,000.

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