Explosion at Coryell Memorial Hospital leaves one dead, 15 injured
By LYNETTE SOWELL
A Tuesday afternoon explosion at a construction site at Coryell Memorial Hospital in Gatesville, killed one construction worker and injured 15. Initially, the number of injured was released as 12 on Tuesday, but by Wednesday morning had climbed to 15.
The hospital, along with The Meadows and The Oaks at Coryell, the neighboring nursing home and assisted living facility, were evacuated with the assistance of local emergency responders, along with other agencies beyond Coryell County.
By 5:45 p.m., Coryell County officials along with representatives of Coryell Memorial Hospital held a press conference to give the initial report and answer questions from the media.
“There were some serious injuries. They have been evacuated to Parkland and other various hospitals, along with other patients,” said Coryell County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Harrell.
On Wednesday morning, officials released the name of the fatality, construction worker Michael Bruggman, 43, of Rogers, who was working as a subcontractor for Lochridge Priest at the time the explosion occurred.
There were 12 acute care patients in the hospital at the time of the blast, as well as more than 100 residents in assisted living and nursing home, which are adjacent to the hospital’s medical complex.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jeff Bates was the physician on site.
Bates said the major trauma patients injured in the explosion were evacuated by helicopter and ambulance, and as of Thursday morning were receiving treatment at medical facilities Baylor Scott & White in Temple, Seton in Austin, a facility in San Antonio, and Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
None of the hospital’s staff or current patients were injured at the time of the explosion, confirmed Coryell Memorial Health System CEO David Byrom. As of Thursday, the facility had been released back to CMHS, except for the boiler room where the explosion occurred.
Byrom praised the staff onsite who immediately began the process of both evacuating residents and patients, along with seeing to the injured.
“Our staff, with all the support we have in the community and surrounding areas, I can’t tell you how quickly they responded,” Byrom said. “We had triage area set up out back. We were triaging folks with our medical staff and nurses there.”
Coryell Community Church is approximately one mile east of the hospital, and Pastor Daniel Crowther said the building swayed when the explosion occurred. The church became a temporary residence for about 40 of the assisted living and nursing home residents.
“A lot of our members are on the medical staff there. A nurse called me within minutes of this happening. So I and some of the staff drove there and we asked where we could help.
“The power was knocked out to the nursing home, so you’ve got 100-something patients who have no air, when it’s 100 degrees outside. We jumped in and because of our proximity, it’s short commute.”
Crowther said church members came to the church, to help sit with the displaced residents, so “everyone had a buddy.”
“We fed them, we kept them hydrated, we turned on Andy Griffith for them,” Crowder said. He was especially appreciative of the businesses which stepped up to help provide meals.
Also onsite were staff from the centers, who have also spent their time tending to the residents.
Gatesville Mayor Gary Chumley echoed an earlier comment of Byrom, when talking about how the rescue and evacuation efforts unfolded.
“We are indeed surrounded by heroes here,” Chumley said. “It wasn’t an accident that a concentrated, organized, all-out effort ensued. Rapid response was the result of countless hours of training at Coryell Memorial Hospital, the Gatesville Police Department, Coryell county EMS, Coryell County Sheriff’s Department, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, and our neighboring communities.”
Chumley thanked the citizens of Gatesville, as well as the churches, Gatesville Independent School District, and the local businesses who gave of their time and resources, for the safety of both patients and first responders.
He thanked Billy Vaden and the Gatesville Fire Department, on the scene first to help extinguish the blaze that resulted from the explosion, and he also thanked neighboring communities who sent ambulances, along with fire trucks for backup.
“This could not have been done by us alone. It was the concentrated effort of our neighbors that helped us out.”
Copperas Cove Deputy Fire Chief Gary Young confirmed that Copperas Cove transported an emergency room patient, being seen for an unrelated issue, to Hillcrest Hospital in Waco, and that one of the city’s fire engines responded and waited on standby as an additional resource if needed. Fire Chief Michael Neujahr also responded to support the Incident Command.
The investigation into the cause of the explosion was still continuing as of Thursday morning, with initial belief that it was linked to a natural gas leak.
Gatesville Police Chief Nathan Gohlke said the Texas State Fire Marshal is leading the investigation, and that if anyone has any photos of video taken of the explosion itself, to contact the Gatesville Police Department.
One key element for the city of Gatesville is that its water tower by the hospital was not damaged, Harrell said on Thursday, noting that it had been looked at by a structural engineer.
Byrom said the hospital’s goal is to have the first phase completed, that of reopening the emergency room, along with its lab and x-ray services, by Saturday, July 7. Part of the process in releasing the buildings back to the hospital has been checking the utilities, with Atmos on site looking at the gas lines. Also, the hospital’s medical and drug supplies have been checked, particularly those which needed refrigeration and have undergone temperature testing.
Thursday’s late morning press conference was the last official gathering, but more information will be released as the investigation continues.
Some of CMHS services have continued, such as Coryell Memorial Healthcare System physicians still assisting patients with their medicine refills via phone. Coryell County EMS service has continued uninterrupted since the explosion on Tuesday.
Wound care and kidney dialysis services are also ongoing. Scheduling questions for CMHS can be answered by calling 254-865-8251.