(MCT) – Will County officials tonight were trying to determine why two vehicles crashed through a fence in New Lenox Township early this morning, killing two men, seriously injuring three others and causing a crude oil pipeline to explode into flames.
The crash happened before 3 a.m. just east of Schoolhouse Road in an unincorporated area near New Lenox, when one vehicle carrying two men and another vehicle carrying three others drove through a chain-link fence and hit the Enbridge Pipeline near Moni Road.
The resulting explosion could be seen blocks away, said New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann.
All of the people involved were men in their mid-20s and were from New Lenox, said Baldermann.
"It is an absolute tragedy," said Baldermann. "As a parent I just feel so terrible for their families. As a mayor, for us to suffer this kind of tragic accident here in town ... on behalf of the town I want to extend condolences to their families."
The first person on the scene was a New Lenox police officer who had been driving near the area when he saw the flames and rushed to the scene, Baldermann said.
Baldermann said the officer was able to get three of the men to safety away from crash.
"He could see the flames and a substantial fire," said Baldermann. "Unfortunately the other kids were trapped in the vehicle that was engulfed."
A fence normally surrounds the pipeline but the officer saw that it had been driven over, said Baldermann. The area is an industrial park and no structures were affected, he said.
"For one reason or another one car struck a valve that had a tank that had oil, and the other car went underneath that car and there was an explosion. The two people in the first vehicle were killed," said Baldermann.
Baldermann said he knew one of the young men who had died and played basketball with him and his children last summer. He said he also knew one of the injured because they were friends with children who are about the same age.
"They were just kids from the neighborhood," said Baldermann.
Baldermann said the three men in the second vehicle were hospitalized.
Two survivors were taken to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood and the other survivor was taken to Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.
"At least two of them were hurt pretty badly," Baldermann said of the survivors.
He said Enridge Pipeline officials were able to detect that the pipeline had been damaged through a sensor and were able to shut off the flow of oil.
He said he didn't know why the crash happened, referring the question to Will County sheriff's officials, who did not return telephone calls. A dispatcher said to call back Monday for information.
New Lenox Fire Department officials declined to comment.
"I can't think of any reason why they would be back in that particular area at that time of the night," said Baldermann.
He said fire officials were able to get the resulting fire under control by about 6 a.m.
Officials remained on the scene all day Saturday as officials with the sheriff's department and Enbridge Pipeline officials investigate, he said.