Oil field explosion leaves two families hoping for healing

Melissa Helsel
Melissa Helsel
Joseph Crisp
Joseph Crisp

NEW LONDON, TX (KLTV) - By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

NEW LONDON, TX (KLTV) - The investigation continues into what exactly caused a fatal, early morning explosion. The body of Melissa Helsel-Williams, 24, was found near a group of oil well tank batteries, around 1:30, Monday morning. She was pronounced dead on-scene.

The explosion happened near County Road 111 in Rusk County.  Authorities also found Joseph Crisp, 24, just yards away from the explosion site.  He is in critical condition at a Shreveport hospital.

A crew worked to clean the mangled metal from the scorched site.  The exact cause of the explosion is still to be determined, but sources told us it was likely a cigarette lighter that ignited fumes venting above the tank batteries.  We're told the tank that exploded was still in service, but not full.

"There are always explosive gases contained within the tanks," said Ron Duncan, chief deputy with the Rusk County Sheriff's Department.

Duncan said Crisp was blown nearly 180 feet into the nearby woods.

"I got a phone call around 2 a.m. saying, there's been an accident," said Cara Anderson, Crisp's sister.  "We grabbed the kids and left."

When we spoke to Anderson, she'd just arrived from visiting her brother in the hospital.  She said her brother suffered injuries to his head, spine, and spleen.  He also has burns on a quarter of his body.

"Accidents happen," she said.  "God takes who he wants to take."

We are told Crisp was found groaning, but conscious, when firefighters arrived.  He told authorities his friend, Melissa Helsel-Williams, was somewhere nearby.  Sources revealed her body was found underneath the shell of the blown-up tank.

"To us, [she] was…'Bootsie Kay,'" shared Jerry Smires, Williams' uncle.

Smires joined other family members outside a relative's home near New London.

"Her heart was so big, and she was so beautiful," he said.

"She loved family and would do anything for anybody," said Angela Smires, Williams' cousin.

Jerry Smires just happens to live within yards of the explosion site.  "I thought, 'My goodness, a plane has hit, or something,'" he recalled.  "It was so loud!"

Smires said he has visited the tank battery before.  "Never thought anything about it."

Smires said his niece leaves behind a husband of three years.

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