Plant explosion kills Augusta welder

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News 12 at 11, August 21, 2007

AUGUSTA, GA-- A 35-year-old man is dead after an explosion at the plant where he was contracted to work. Jason Karstedt died in the explosion at Farmers and Truckers Biodiesel.

The tragedy struck just days before the plant was scheduled to open for business.

Karstedt was inside attaching a flow meter to a gas tank when it exploded.

"It's been very hard for my coworkers, because they were right there with him, and they're taking it pretty hard," said the plant's co-owner, Chuck Pardue.

Pardue tells News 12 four other employees were inside at the time. One man was just six feet away when the tank blew. All four were luckier than Karstedt.

"If the vapors were in the tank, there's nothing else to release. Once those vapors ignite, then it's a flash fire and it's over with," explained Augusta Fire Battalion Chief Chris Reid.

Pardue says one possibility for the disaster might include vapors that could have been inside the empty tank. The tank used to hold sodium-methalate, a wet and flammable chemical. It's also an ingredient in the plant's biodiesel fuel.

"Our people had screened it just a few minutes before they had started the welding and didn't detect anything, so we're mystified as to how it happened," Pardue said.

OSHA will inspect the plant and interview the people who work there to try and determine the cause of the blaze. In the meantime, Pardue expresses his sympathy to Karstedt's family. "It's such a tragedy, and my heart goes out, and my coworkers here extend grief to the family."

Karstedt's body will undergo an autopsy on Thursday at the Crime Lab off of Phinizy Road, according to coroner Charlena Graham. No word on when OSHA expects to complete their investigation.

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