An explosion at the Escambia County Jail on Wednesday April 30th destroyed a part of the jail and the Central Booking Facility killing two inmates and injuring 189 other inmates and correctional officers as reported by county officials since the event. The blast partially leveled the five-story jail facility located on west Leonard Street which held roughly 600 inmates. The Escambia County Public Information Manager, Kathleen Castro, said, “The building is still standing, it’s just unstable and partially collapsed.” She described the incident as an, “apparent gas explosion.” She stated that there are reports that people heard an explosion and smelled gas and that the explosion may have been related to the torrential flooding that have hit Escambia County as she added that, “The facility did receive extensive flooding as a result of the rains yesterday,” Castro said. Flooding, she said, “would seem to be a causal relationship, but we can’t be sure.”
At the latest count Escambia County officials released information that there were:
- 2 Killed
- 184 Injured
- 3 Still Hospitalized
- 600 in the Jail During Explosion
- All Persons Accounted For
The blast occurred around 11:00 pm knocking out the windows of Rosewood Manor Nursing Home and area housing. David Paul Weinstein, 45, and Robert Earl Simmons, 54, were killed in the explosion. The injured were sent to area hospitals and the remaining male and female inmates were moved to area correctional facilities. At press time, agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the state fire marshal were still investigating the scene. Castro said, “At this time County government is not involved at the site as the ATF and state fire marshal investigate to determine the cause of the explosion.
The night of the blast, Gordon C. Pike, Director of Escambia County Department of Corrections, spent time consoling the families of the inmates involved in the explosion who were concerned about the lack of info of their family members’ whereabouts. County Commission Chair Lumon May joined Pike and the staff in the command center before dawn to access the dire situation. It took until 4:40 pm the next day for county officials to post the names and locations of hundreds of the inmates. Additionally, Pike spent untold hours managing the disaster operations out of the command center working with numerous staff, county, and state officials surveying the damage and accounting for correctional staff and inmates in hospitals and area correctional facilities.
The jail had been the responsibility of Sheriff David Morgan. On June 23, 2013 the Escambia County Commission transferred the management responsibility of the jail from Sherriff Morgan to Gordon Pike. The U. S. Department of Justice had criticized the conditions of the jail and in response to the report the sheriff requested $5.2 million to fund additional correctional staff and bring the jail into compliance. The Escambia County Commission balked at the additional investment and took over the jail’s management and passed the responsibility to Pike.
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