Victim's identity released after fatal crash, fire at BP gas station

WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO: Raw surveillance shows BP station fire, explosion
(Source: Stephanie Denney/Facebook)
(Source: Stephanie Denney/Facebook)


SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department is investigating a fatal fire that occurred at the BP gas station at East DeRenne Avenue and Bull Street Tuesday morning.

According to officials on scene, the fire was caused by a vehicle that crashed into a gas pump at the station.

Units were dispatched to the scene at 11:11 a.m. after receiving multiple witness reports of the crash and gas station fire, and reports that a person still remained in the vehicle.

Upon arrival, paramedics found one patient who was treated and transported to Memorial Hospital, and one victim deceased inside the a vehicle.

According to investigators, 87-year-old James Lester died at the scene after he attempted to cross Bull Street in a Chevrolet Blazer and collided with another vehicle. Following the collision, Lester then accelerated through the parking lot and drove directly into one of the gas pumps.

Police say Lester's vehicle flipped onto its driver's side, trapping him inside as the vehicle and gas pump caught fire.

All eastbound and westbound lanes of DeRenne Avenue were closed for several hours while fire crews worked to put out the massive blaze. All roads have reopened between Montgomery and Abercorn streets. Bull Street has also reopened between 63rd St./White Bluff and Hampstead Avenue.

WTOC spoke to the driver of the Toyota Prius, who wasn't injured but he was pretty shaken up. He said when the SUV attempted to cross all lanes of traffic, he didn't have time to stop.

"As soon as I hit him, he floored it. And when I turned around - it was that quick - he was on the side. In just one second, the flames were just huge," said John Grogan, involved in the crash.

The gas station attendant tells us he heard a noise, thinking someone's tire had popped. He said when he ran to the window to check it out, he was not prepared to see the fiery scene at one of his gas pumps.

"I see the pump was on fire, so the next reaction, we all get out. We all started screaming, 'Get out, get out.' Luckily today, it was slow. We only had about four or five customers," said H. Patel, BP gas station employee.

Lester, the driver of the SUV, did not make it out in time but emergency crews still had to act fast to keep the fire from spreading and potentially claiming more lives.

"They knew on the way that they had a serious fire," said Savannah Fire PIO Mark Keller.

The gas pump had been ripped from its foundation and gasoline was coming up from the tanks underground. Firefighters not only had to stop the fire but also the gas that was fueling it.

"They were throwing both water and foam on it until the emergency shut off could be reached and activated," said Keller.

Once the gas line was shut off, it did not take them long to get it under control.

This incident created many distractions and disruptions for the community Tuesday, the impact for these victims and families will continue on.

"I'll probably break down and cry later because I didn't see anyone get out of the car so I assumed he burned up," said Grogan.

The following is some eyewitness footage taken at the scene:

The owner of the gas station is unsure when the BP will reopen at this time.

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