Medina explosion cause unknown

MEDINA, Ohio – As the investigation into the explosion of an antique steam tractor on the Medina County Fairground continues, the accident has taken one more life.

Bryan Hammond, 18, an employee of Liberty Excavating who helped bring the antique tractor onto the fairgrounds, died Aug. 4 at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

Hammond was transported to the MetroHealth burn unit immediately after the accident because of the severity of his burns.

He had been attempting to shield his girlfriend from the blast.

The 1918 Case 110 horsepower steam-powered threshing tractor had recently been restored by Hammond’s employer, Cliff Kovacic, owner of Liberty Excavating in Medina.

Sent to boilermaker. According to Larry Good of Liberty Excavating, although Kovacic had done much of the metal work on the restoration of the tractor at his shop, the boiler had been sent to a boilermaker in Michigan to be inspected and repaired.

The tractor and other equipment the Kovacic family had intended to display at the Medina fair had just entered the fairground after being driven a little over a mile from Liberty Excavating when the steam engine exploded.

Steam, hot oil, and shrapnel shot hundreds of feet out into the fairground, killing Kovacic, 54; his son, William, 26; and William’s friend, Alan Kimble, 46. They had all been riding on the tractor.

Dennis Jungbluth, 58, of Litchfield, who had also accompanied the Kovacics, died a few hours later at Medina General Hospital.

Treated for burns. Of the 48 other people who were injured in the blast and treated at seven area hospitals, the 10 most seriously injured were the burn victims transported to the burn units at MetroHealth in Cleveland and Akron Children’s Hospital.

Two of them, including one of the Medina policemen who was on the scene, were burned over 50 percent of their bodies.

According to Sheriff Neil Hassinger, the investigation into the accident’s cause is spreading a wide net to consider every possible cause for such an explosion.

Local steam experts have speculated on low water in the boiler, a faulty pressure gauge, a crack in the engine that allowed steam into the firebox, vibrations caused by driving the tractor over the streets, a mechanism that might have dripped water into an empty steam chamber, and the distraction of the operator away from what was happening with the engine.

No idea eliminated. Hassinger said he has not eliminated any of these theories, and has brought experts to Medina to look at the explosion site and provide him with the information he needs to understand the accident.

The final person to arrive will be a steam machine expert from London who is coming Aug. 18.

At the same time, the pressure-release valve and fusible, or soft, plug from the engine, have been sent to the Columbus laboratory of the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessels Inspectors for testing.

The soft plug in a steam engine is covered with lead so that when the water gets low in the engine and the plug is no longer covered, it should melt and drop out of the engine, releasing the pressure.

Pieces of the boiler have been sent to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to be tested for fatigue and exposure to excessively high temperatures.

Crown sheet. One of the weak points that is being scrutinized is the crown sheet that covered the firebox. The crown sheet is not as thick as the skin of the boiler and is susceptible to warping or melting.

“We have looked at everything that could have happened,” Hassinger said. “If you narrow the investigation down too much, you are liable to miss something.”

Hassinger said he is pursuing the investigation not because someone might be liable for the accident, but to try and determine exactly what happened so it won’t happen again.

He said he will be making a statement by the end of the week on where the investigation has led up to this point.

A fund to assist victims of the explosion has been established at the Western Reserve Bank of Medina. Donations can be sent to the bank at 4015 Medina Rd., Medina, OH 44256.

A separate fund has been created to assist the families of the two Medina police officers severely burned in the explosion. Donations to this fund can be sent to the Medina Police Officer Burn Fund, FirstMerit Bank, 39 Public Square, Medina, OH 44256.

(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at jcummins@farmanddairy.com.)

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