Police Director: car explosion an accident - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Police Director: car explosion an accident

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email and Nick Kenney - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis police say a car exploded when a woman lighting a cigarette ignited fumes from cleaning products inside the vehicle.

Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said the incident happened Thursday morning in the parking lot of an office building at 5545 Murray. Nearby businesses include insurance, medical, legal and lending companies, as well as a spa.

"It was just a freak accident," Godwin said.

It had looked more serious earlier in the day when the blast was reported about noon in an office building parking lot on the east side of the city. It was the second time in a month that authorities responded to the report of a car explosion in the Memphis area.

Godwin said the woman, later identified as Monique Hicks, had a lot of cleaning chemicals, including bubble gum remover, in the trunk of her car.

"We got a flash, a vapor-type flash. That's why you see a push on the doors and windows," Godwin said.

He described it as a "dangerous situation" that resembled a bomb detonating.  Video from Chopper 5 showed several windows had been blown out of the car, a late model Nissan Maxima, but the car did not look burned.

Workers rushed out of nearby buildings after hearing the loud noise, initially thinking it may have been a train collision or a power transformer explosion.

"We were working and talking and all of a sudden we heard this big boom sound," spa employee Bonnie Brookshaw said.

"It sounded like someone dropped an air conditioner or something on top of the roof," witness Cole Wilder added.

Several people then saw Hicks 'staggering' around the parking lot.  Dr. David Shainberg, a physician with offices across the street from the blast, went to the parking lot after he heard the explosion. He saw a woman beside the car who had what appeared to be an injured arm and soot marks on her face.

She was distraught and disoriented but didn't appear seriously injured, Shainberg told the Associated Press.

"She was walking and talking, but she was physically upset," he said.

Hicks was transported by ambulance to the burn unit at The MED. Godwin said she was treated and released Thursday afternoon.

Fire officials and bomb experts from the city police and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted the investigation.

Authorities blocked off streets surrounding the parking lot, and many people who work in the area were on lunch break when the explosion occurred and couldn't get back to their offices for a while, Citadel Memphis Radio Group switchboard operator Rita Martinez said.

Godwin said the Thursday's incident had no relation to an explosion last month in West Memphis, Ark., which is across the Mississippi River from Memphis.

That blast nearly killed the head of the Arkansas State Medical Board. Dr. Trent Pierce is still hospitalized and authorities have not made an arrest in that bombing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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