“It’s a mystery,” Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd said. “We’re baffled. Usually when there’s an explosion like this, it sucks all the oxygen out and there’s no fire. This was a big explosion and a big fire.”
James Thomas Sharp, 33, and Charles Franklin Wells Jr., 18, were killed in an explosion and fire that occurred in a workshop and garage building located about 200 feet behind Sharp’s home at 1025 Young’s Farm Road at about 12:18 a.m. Monday.
Wells lived at 3645 Buchanan Highway in Cedartown and had come over to help Sharp move something out of a truck, according to police.
Dodd said police do not know what they were moving, but that the workshop was more of a storage space containing antique furniture and Christmas decor.
He said Sharp’s wife and children were in the nearby home at the time of the explosion but were unharmed.
Among the first on the scene was Randy Winkles, chief of Station 7 of the Polk County Volunteer Fire Department.
He lives in the area and the fire station is right down the road from where the fire happened.
“He was there within a matter of minutes,” Dodd said. “He said when he arrived the building was already destroyed.”
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent an investigator with expertise in post-blast incidents.
However, after hours of sifting through the debris with the help of a backhoe, investigators still had found no cause for the explosion.
“The ATF guy is baffled too,” Dodd said. “We do know there were no liquids in there, nothing flammable, no propane, no natural gas. So it’s just kind of a mystery to us right now.”
Dodd said typically an explosion would leave evidence as to its cause, but the fire that followed the explosion has hampered that search.
“Any evidence could have been destroyed in the fire,” Dodd said.
Dodd also said the department has officially ruled out a methamphetamine explosion because there is no evidence to suggest that as a possibility.
The bodies of the two men have been sent to the Georgia Crime Lab for autopsies.
The State Fire Marshall’s Office will be handling the hands-on portion of the investigation because that office has an arson expert and the local police department does not, according to Dodd.
He said his department will continue to take the lead in the investigation into the blaze, coordinating efforts and information from the Fire Marshall’s office, the ATF expert, insurance officials and the state crime lab.
“Hopefully, we’ll get something out of the crime lab,” Dodd said.
However, while the cause of deaths will probably be released rather quickly, Dodd said it is unknown how long the crime lab will take to find and study the type of evidence police need to solve the mystery of the explosion and fire, if that evidence even exists.
The chief also hopes Sharp’s wife will be able to talk to police after she deals with the trauma of the incident and provide them with some new clues.
Dodd said the initial blast blew out the walls of the building, and then the roof came down.
“It threw debris approximately 100 yards, so it was a massive explosion,” Dodd said.
Matt Crawford, 18, lives nearby. The cousin of Wells, one of the two men killed, Crawford told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he “heard an explosion, so I took off from my house and ran over here. I was the first one here.”
Crawford said that when he got there, he could hear the victims yelling for help but could not rescue them from the burning structure.
Another neighbor, Tony Summerville, said the Sharps had only lived in the house for a few months but “were good neighbors.”
“It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s a tragedy any way you slice it.”
Mike Morris and John Spink of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.