The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

May 15, 2013

Big bang theories

Speculation surrounds mysterious blast

By Joe Wiercinski and Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writers

MERCER COUNTY — Lots of people heard a blast at about 9 p.m. Monday but nobody so far seems to know what caused the sound, which many described as a “massive explosion” heard from Mercer to Sandy Lake and Grove City.

“It was louder than anything I ever heard in my life,” said Mike Lasko, who lives along Lamor Road in East Lackawannock Township. “It made me jump two feet in the air.”

The Greenville teacher was on Spruce Drive in Mercer when the sound erupted.

“Everybody came out of their homes wondering what the heck happened.”

The county’s deputy 911 director, Russ Saylor, would like to know what the loud noise was, too, but admits he’s having little luck in finding out.

Saylor said a friend of his son’s asked him Monday evening if he knew anything about a “loud explosion” in the Mercer area. “I called into work and was told that they had received calls from Grove City, Sandy Lake, East Lackawannock Township, all asking what it was. We dispatched the state police, but they weren’t able to find anything,” Saylor said.

He also said he recalls another similar incident years ago. “I remember Frank (Janetti) going out himself looking for what might have caused it. But he never found anything.”

Janetti is the county’s public safety director.

Saylor wasn’t certain how many calls 911 received Monday night, because one incident report was filed rather a separate report for each call. There were no reports of any damage that he knows of, he said.

Cpl. Ronald Shoup, a state police shift supervisor at the Troop D barracks in Jackson Township, said four troopers looked for signs of fire, smoke or people in distress around Mercer but found nothing out of the ordinary.

Tuesday morning, Lasko said, there was speculation around Mercer that gas drilling operations in Mercer County were somehow linked to the sound.

“Everyone knows about it but no one knows what caused it,” he said of the sound. “It’s a big mystery.”

Gas operations didn’t appear to be involved because there were no reports of any environmental damage, said Gary Clark, communication director at the state Department of Environmental Protection office in Meadville.

“Believe me, if somebody spills a gallon of diesel fuel, I hear about it,” he said.

Across the hall, Gordon Buckley, DEP emergency response manager, said they weren’t aware of any problems in Mercer County.

“We operate a 24-hour telephone number and respond to emergencies,” he said. “There’s nothing on it. We had no report of any explosions.”

That includes Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s pumping station along Greenville Road near Fullingmill Road in Jefferson Township. Its 32-inch buried lines are part of El Paso Corp.’s 60-year-old interstate natural-gas pipeline system.

Cory Masson, an employee of Atlas Energy, said well-tenders from his company called him Monday night to ask about the loud noise.

“There was a similar thing about three weeks ago, on a Saturday night, right about the same time,” he said. “But I know it wasn’t any of our wells that blew up. I would have heard about that, if that had been the case,” he said.

County Commissioner Chairman John Lechner, who lives in Hermitage, said he wasn’t aware of the noise and didn’t hear any talk about it Tuesday around the courthouse.

The retired Air Force lieutenant colonel suggested the sound could have been a sonic boom from aircraft overhead.

Others suggested “exploding targets,” sold to shooting enthusiasts who like to see and hear something blow up.

The targets, sold in stores and online, are made of explosive materials that can be set off by bullets fired from guns as light as .22 caliber rifles or pistols or high-powered rifles that fire far more powerful ammunition.

After getting nine reports of residents hearing the sound from Lamor Road to Greenville Road along the borders of Jefferson and Coolspring Townships, Jeff Lockard, chief of Jefferson Township police, said his department will try to get to the bottom of the unexplained sound.

“I’m not ruling out exploding targets, but this boom was bigger than what they could produce,” he said.

Lockard referred to October reports in South Pymatuning Township of loud bangs linked to exploding targets.

Shoup said he was familiar of reports of their use in Trumbull and Mahoning counties in Ohio in the last couple of years but he wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that they were what people heard the other night.

“We’ve been on these calls more than once in the last couple of years,” Shoup said. “If you don’t find something that is the reason for an explosion, how do you explain it?”