PG&E implosion witness: 'I found fragments of bone, flesh and blood'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The Saturday morning planned implosion of the Kern Power Plant off Rosedale Highway and Coffee Road sent shrapnel flying more than 1,000 feet to the east and west, well beyond the cordoned safety zone.

Civilian spectators said cheers of excitement quickly turned to screams of terror after debris from the blast shot into crowds of people. In all, five people were injured, including a man in his 40s who lost a leg and may possibly lose the other.

Sam Vagle drove himself and his son to watch the demolition of the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. decommissioned power plant. PG&E said it did not encourage the public come out to see the plant come down, but, still, hundreds of people were at the event.

"I found fragments of bone, flesh, and blood splattered for the full length of my truck. Bumper-to-bumper," described Vagel of the aftermath, having parked his truck just inside the supposed safety zone.

He said the big piece of shrapnel that crashed into his truck is the same piece that hit the man, causing a partial loss to his leg. That most severely injured bystander was taken to an area hospital and then airlifted to the Fresno area for medical treatment.

"For it to penetrate two chain-link fences, pierce his body, and then continue on, and embed in the metal structure of this truck so deep, the velocity of that metal was fast," said Vagle.

A large hole remains on the side of Vagle's truck. He said the truck has been cleaned twice, though still on Sunday morning blood could be seen.

"I had a mirror on a long stick. I stuck it in the hole, and there's still some red residue, if you will. I don't know if it's dried up flesh or dried up blood," Vagle said.

Vagle said emergency responders used his truck to shield the injured man.

Cleveland Wrecking Co. of Covina, Calif., the main contractor on the demolition, issued a statement expressing sympathy and vowing a thorough investigation: "This was a terrible accident, and our hearts go out to the individuals who were injured. We will be conducting a full investigation and will cooperate with the authorities."

Several subcontractors also worked on the project. PG&E said a Pennsylvania-based company by the name of Dem-Tech was hired to manage the implosion. Dem-Tech has not responded to any calls from Eyewitness News, though research of Dem-Tech's parent company shows a clean history of safety.

Dem-Tech, along with law enforcement, set up a 1,000-foot perimeter around the old power plant to keep people safe.