Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Witness recalls entire vehicle engulfed in flames

Cadillac burned, exploded very quickly

Eastland Lake Road, near Waco – William McAdams had been out of bed for a short while Thursday morning when he got the feeling something wasn't right.

He stepped out of the apartment attached to the industrial shop he occupies when visiting his son and saw a huge cloud of thick, oily black smoke boiling up from the tree line at a right angle corner of the rural road that skirts the boundary of an old sand and gravel pit four miles east of the Baylor University campus.

“I was the second one there,” he recalls of the scene of horror as the dark-colored Cadillac sport model burned while a helpless Will Patterson struggled to exit the vehicle.

What Mr. McAdams and other witnesses saw has convinced him that the young Baylor freshman who met his fiery fate in a burning car died within seconds after the flames erupted due to an unknown cause.

“There was a young girl and boy there first. They told me that as quick as they turned the corner, came around the curve, the car exploded – the gas tank,” he said, gesturing to a sharp, right angle curve in the road.

“That whole car was on fire – I'm talking about the inside and out, front to back, bumper to bumper – all one solid wall of flames,” he said ruefully, recalling the shock of watching helplessly as a fellow human being burned alive in a matter of seconds.

A lingering odor of petroleum distillates permeates the area where the brand new car with dealer plates still attached burned.

Gobs of melted plastic goo and lengths of black corrugated conduit lay in the discolored grass. Scorched earth on the berm bordering the fence and vine-covered trees in the fence line still exude the sickly-sweet odor of burned petroleum resins, plastics, industrial coatings and acrylic paint, as well as synthetic rubber. It is impossible to seperate the odors that comprise the potpourri of burned petroleum distillates.

Each tire contains about seven gallons of distilled petroleum and carbon black, according to manufacturing experts.

Very little if anything else known to investigators is passing their lips.

It has been made known to witnesses that young Mr. Patterson was depicted on video surveillance devices as he filled two 5-gallon containers with gasoline at an area filling station just a few minutes before bystanders and neighbors called in the Downsville and Robinson fire departments to battle the blaze that so quickly consumed his car.

The precise cause of Mr. Patterson's death will not be known until toxicology exams and autopsy results are returned.

The point of origin of the fire will be determined by a highly experienced arson investigator attached to the Austin field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to public information specialist Marsha Perot of the bureau's Houston field office.

The area where the car burned is directly across the road from a Baylor University clubhouse and picnic ground.

Asked if Mr. Patterson's fraternity brothers had partied there the night before, Mr. McAdams replied that the only people he ever sees there are young girls and boys playing volleyball while picnicking on the grounds.

“I've never seen anything like that going on over there,” he said, waving at a pavilion, a barbecue pit and several clubhouse buildings on the neatly kept grounds across the road from his son's foundation drilling shop.

The unincorporated area of rural McLennan County is just off University Parks Dr., also known as FM 3400, just east of Loop 340, which connects northbound Hwy 6 to Valley Mills and Meridian with its southbound route to Marlin to the southeast.

Eastland Lake Road snakes around multiple gravel and sand pits, marshalling yards filled with heaps of various grades of sand and gravel, and rock crushers, then heads through the Brazos River bottoms to the Downsville community just down the road from where the luxury car burned on the sharp curve beside the fenceline and the deep sand pit.

Though the setting is rural, it is far from isolated from dwellings and places of business.

Mr. McAdams shrugged, said, “I can't get over him buying that much gas and taking it with him.” He barely suppressed a shiver, an eerie look spreading across his face.

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