Two men were killed and three critically injured early Saturday when their vehicles struck an oil pipeline in southwest suburban New Lenox Township, officials said.
At 2:05 a.m., Will County Sheriff’s police and New Lenox firefighters responded to the explosion of an Enbridge Energy pipeline in an industrial park east of Schoolhouse Road and south of Old Plank Road Trail, reports said.
A Ford Mustang with two people inside and a sport-utility vehicle with three occupants were apparently side by side when they went through a chain link fence and traveled about 125 feet onto the property before striking the pipeline, igniting the crude oil inside.
A worker said the impact with the pipe appeared to have “sheared off” the top of the Mustang.
“The hazardous conditions have prevented us from confirming and recovering the bodies,” Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil said Saturday afternoon. “But we are standing by at the scene.”
The pipeline was reportedly burning until 5 a.m. The crude oil leak was capped at 8 a.m., said Rich Adams, vice president of U.S. operations for Enbridge Energy Company.
“When you hit a liquid fuel line, usually it’s not very good. They can ignite and there was ignition,” New Lenox Fire Protection District Chief Jon Mead said.
Firefighters rushed three men to Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet for treatment, Mead said.
Two men were soon transferred to the burn unit at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, New Lenox police Chief Bob Sterba said. One man was so badly injured, he was airlifted via helicopter, he said.
The five men are all in their 20s and reside in New Lenox, Sterba said.
“This is horrible, horrible, horrible,” Sterba said.
New Lenox police officer Eric Etchison was at Schoolhouse and Laraway roads, about a half-mile from the accident, when he saw the flames and rushed to the scene, Sterba said.
Etchison was the first emergency responder on the scene and “did a great job” helping three men get out of the fenced-in area, Sterba said.
However, he was unable to reach the two men in the other car due to “significant flames,” Sterba said.
“He certainly was quite frustrated because the other car, the flames and heat were so intense, he couldn’t get near it,” Sterba said.
New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann said he knew two of the victims through his son, and played basketball with the men last summer. He declined to name the victims because he was not sure if their families had been notified.
“What a terrible accident. We feel badly for the families and the victims,” Baldermann said.
“There’s no danger at this time to the public, the situation has been contained,” Baldermann said.
A man who identified himself as a supervisor at the Will County Sheriff’s Department refused to identify the victims Saturday, and told a reporter to call back Monday morning.