Alton Telegraph (Newspaper) - September 10, 1999, Alton, Illinois THE 58 horn* runs after 139 games SERVING THE RIVER BEND SINCE 1836 TELEGRAPH Theoutlooh foot^H^etfiew Vol. 164, No. 238 — 50 cents __Friday, September 10,1999 _ www.thetelegraph.com Survivor recalls fatal blast By DENNIS GRUBAUGH Telegraph staff writer GRANITE CITY - A survivor of a horrific fireworks explosion on the Alton riverfront took the stand Thursday to recount the terrifying moments that claimed the lives of three of his co-workers. Ralph Gonzalez, 34, broke down in tears as he described the burning death of his colleague, Rick Cisneros, who was trapped in an enclosed area atop a barge when a shell misfired and set off a chain reaction They and three other Chicago area men were staging the city’s annual Riverfront Blast on July 3, 1997. The testimony in Madison County Circuit Court came in day three of a negligence trial pitting the victims’ family members against the city of Alton and Fireworks Partners, the production company that staged the show, using the name The Mad Bomber. The explosion occurred when crew chief Ken Duty fired a shell that went only a few feet into the air and plummeted into a storage area for the other shells. “I heard him say ‘low break’ and turned around to see the shell hit the deck,” Gonzalez said He started to grab the shell with the intention of throwing it overboard when Duty warned him off. “Ken yelled, ‘No, no, no,’ and I took off running,” Gonzalez said The shell then went off, blowing Gonzalez about five feet. He landed on his knees and chest but managed to crawl to the 4-foot “combing wall,” which surrounded four of the five men. As he crawled, he said, he could hear someone screaming profanities and turned to look. “It was Rick,” he said. “I saw him on fire.” Gonzales said he then threw himself over the wall and broke his ankle as he landed. A series of explosions and lulls followed, and Gonzalez said he clung to the iron combing wall, just inches from the edge of the barge and the water below During one of the lulls, he looked over the wall and saw Cisneros inside the combing area, moving about and on fire, he said. At that point Gonzalez broke down, prompting Circuit Judge ■ See BLAST, Page A9 Fire ruins paint store By BETHANY BEHRHORST Telegraph staff writer MEADOWBROOK — A three-alarm fire turned a wood-lined steel shed into a hot pile of rubble Thursday afternoon. Firefighters from Meadowbrook, Bethalto and Holiday Shores Volunteer Fire Departments battled the blaze, which destroyed a 24- by 36-foot structure off Illinois Route 140 at 2:40 p.m. The shed was the home of Bethalto Painting and Decorating, a business owned by Darrell Griggs since 1956. He operated the business there for 20 years. Griggs has painted many houses and businesses throughout the area. “I think I need to paint my barn now, don’t you?” he said to his nephew, Greg Martin of Alton. Martin usually works by his uncle’s side in the shed but was visiting his brother-in-law at the time of the fire. He heard the call go out over a dispatcher radio and arrived at the scene just before 2:50 p.m. “The firetrucks were already here,” Martin said. Meadowbrook firefighters were the first on the scene, only two minutes after the call rang in. “The flames were already shooting out of the building,” Meadowbrook Fire Chief Cory Bowen said. ■ See FIRE, Page A9 The Telegraph/JOHN BADMAN Firefighters pull hose into position as they battle a blaze Thursday that destroyed Bethalto Painting and Decorating on Route 140 in Meadowbrook. Firefighters from Meadowbrook, Bethalto and Holiday Shores arrived to find the building involved in flames. More photos, Page C-1. Cost-cutting committee is formed for SIU By DEBORAH L. BATES Telegraph staff writer EDWARDSVILLE - At a Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, board members introduced a new committee and approved projects for Lovejoy Library. John Moody will head a committee that will assist SIU in cost-cutting by as much as $4 million annually. Moody was introduced at a breakfast before the board meeting. “It sounded to me that he and the committee accomplished far more in the first days than anyone can expect,” SIU President Ted Sanders said. The panel was appointed after a consulting firm made some controversial recommendations to “cut red tape and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy,” Sanders said. The panel will assist the university in determining the value of the recommendations. The panel is composed of 20 members who are leaders in the region and the university community. One of the recommendations being used is the use of a university-issued credit card that allows for the elimination of paperwork for small purchases. SIU also plans to establish preferred vendor contracts, which could save at least $500,000 annually. SIUE Chancellor David Werner announced that enrollment is up about 300 students. Final enrollment figures were not yet calculated, but Werner indicated that the increase was partially because of continued enrollment and partially because of the acquisition of the nursing school in Springfield. The board approved the construction of a new library storage facility for Lovejoy Good Morning > See SIU, Page A9 Area/Illinois .. A3-7 Obituaries .....A5 Bulletin Board .A8 Archibald, Dugan, Business . .DI Henning, Kilmer, Classifieds .. . .C5 Northcutt, Richards, Comics ..... . .D6 Stepp, Welch,Wilson Editorial . .A4 Scoreboard ____B2 Horoscope .. . .D6 Stocks ........D2 Nation/world . . .C3 Television .....D7 Head-on collision U.S. Corps of Engineers unearths mastodon skull he recognized it as something very special. The skull is in remarkably good condition.” Norris said the great mammal roamed the earth between 10,000 and 3.75 million years ago. In terms of scale, mastodons were about the same size as Asian elephants, he said. The skull piece discovered by Winston weighs between 65 to 75 pounds. “It’s the lower set of molars of the mastodon,” Norris said. “The teeth are six inches long and three inches wide. The entire fragment we have is probably 24 inches by 24 inches. On a human skeleton, the piece we found would represent the area immediately below the eyes.” It is likely that this particular mastodon did not die a natural death, Norris said, from information gained by detailed inspection of the find. Mastodons typically lived well over 40 ■ See SKULL, Page A9 By KERRY SMITH Telegraph staff writer A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge equipment operator brought up a treasure from the depths of the Mississippi River recently - a piece of an ancient mastodon skull. As Tom Winston maneuvered the corps’ dredge potter along the river’s bottom, something weighty caught in his screen. The find occurred in the middle of the Mississippi, roughly two miles upstream from Cairo. The artifact will undergo further study to determine the exact age of the specimen. Corps archeologist Dr. Terry Norris said the corps plans to display the artifact permanently at the National Great Rivers Museum next to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton sometime in the next six months. “This skull was lodged in Tom’s screen, underneath a lot of sediment and mud,” Norris said. “To his credit, I ne i eiegrapn/Muaa smi i ti Rescuers from Fosterburg Fire Department attend to victims of a two-vehicle, head-on crash Thursday afternoon on Culp Lane near Valley View Drive. A Mazda pickup truck and Chevrolet Chevette were involved in the crash. Members of the fire department put out a small fire in the car engine upon arrival at the scene. A report from the Bethalto Police Department was not available Thursday night; fire officials declined to release the names of the victims of the crash.