Hawaii blast came as workers dismantled fireworks

AP News
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Posted: Apr 14, 2011 7:21 PM

An explosion that ripped through an underground fireworks bunker came as workers dismantled pyrotechnics inside, authorities said Thursday.

The blast killed five men and left tools, a hand truck and plastic canopy strewn about the site. The bunker, where seized fireworks were stored before being destroyed by Donaldson Enterprises Inc., still holds explosives that make it too dangerous for investigators to enter. They're piecing together what happened by combing through debris outside, poring over photos and interviewing the lone survivor.

A team of U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigators from Denver inspected the Waikele site this week. Lead investigator Don Holmstrom said Thursday his team is trying to determine exactly what the workers were doing when the blast occurred.

The investigators interviewed personnel of Donaldson Enterprises, Holmstrom said, and found that the workers "were in the process of dismantling some of the pyrotechnic devices that were in the storage area."

Holmstrom and his team are working on a plan to take samples from the explosives.

One of the five men died from thermal burns; the Honolulu medical examiner's office on Thursday identified him as Bryan Cabalce, 25, of Wahiawa.

Three other men died from carbon monoxide inhalation. They were identified as Robert Freeman, 24, of Aiea; Neil Sprankle, 24, of Mililani; Justin Kelii, 29, of Kaneohe.

The deaths have been ruled accidental.

The medical examiner's office said a cause of death and positive identification for the fifth victim is expected to take a while. Family members have said it was Robert Leahey, 50, the younger brother of longtime Hawaii sports broadcaster Jim Leahey.