Death toll rises in Ocracoke explosion|Four people dead, another remains hospitalized

Published 5:36 am Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lifestyles & Features Editor

The death toll has risen to four in the aftermath of a fireworks explosion on Ocracoke Island.
The tragedy occurred shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday, while five employees of South Carolina-based Melrose South Pyrotechnics were unloading fireworks in preparation for the evening’s grand finale of Ocracoke’s July Fourth celebration.
One victim was declared dead at the scene, and three others died after being transported to hospitals on the mainland. Two went to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, and the third went to the burn unit at N.C. Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill.
The dead have been identified as Mark Hill, Terry Holland, Charles Kirkland Jr. and Lisa Simmons, all of the Goldsboro area.
The fifth victim, Marquez Holland, remains hospitalized at the burn center, where he is listed in fair condition in press reports, with burns on 20 percent of his body.
On Sunday, investigators — including representatives of the State Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Melrose Pyrotechnics — determined the explosion was an accident, according to a press release issued by Jamie Tunnell, Hyde County’s public information officer.
The tragedy occurred on the grounds of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, the island’s former U.S. Coast Guard Station overlooking Silver Lake harbor.
At the time of the explosion, personnel with the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department were at the scene, wetting down the area as a precaution while the fireworks were being put in place.
No local firefighters were injured in the blast, but two were transported to Outer Banks Hospital in Nags Head for observation and treatment of smoke inhalation and exhaustion, Tunnell said.
The injured firefighters were identified Saturday as David Warren, a paramedic, and Joyce Reynolds, pastor of Ocracoke United Methodist Church. One was released Saturday night and the other was released Sunday, according to Tunnell.
The Independence Day parade, held as part of the island’s traditional festivities, was postponed until Sunday afternoon. Instead of the usual celebration with patriotic and comical floats, the silent parade served to honor and memorialize the victims and pay tribute to the emergency personnel and community volunteers who responded to the scene of Saturday’s tragic accident.
“If there is anything positive that can come from a tragedy like this, it is the reaction of our community, neighbors, emergency personnel and local and state authorities who cooperated to provide the best care and maintain safety of the island,” said Rudy Austin, president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association. “We were honored to have the opportunity to thank our local responders for their work and show our support and grief to the families of the victims.”
The parade included representatives of the local volunteer fire department and the National Park Service, according to Sundae Horn, staff writer for The Ocracoker, the Washington Daily News’ weekly publication circulated on the island.
Prayers were said for the victims and a fireman’s boot was passed to collect donations for the victims’ families, Horn said.