Escambia County Jail Explosion Claims Two Lives, 184 Injured

May 1, 2014

At least two people were killed in an explosion Wednesday night at the Escambia County Central Booking and Detention Facility on West Leonard Street. Officials reported 184 people were  injured in the incident.

The apparent natural gas explosion caused a partial building collapse about 11:25 p.m.

Both of the fatalities were reported to be inmates. Their names have not been released pending notification of next of kin. Three inmates have been reported as missing.

The dozens of injured included both inmates and correctional officers. The injured were taken to Baptist, Sacred Heart, West Florida and Navy hospital in Pensacola, Gulf Breeze hospital and the Santa Rosa Medical Center in Milton. Those that were not critical were transported by bus, while numerous ambulances transported the more serious victims. Many of the minor injuries were treated and released in under two hours.

Uninjured inmates were  moved to other detention facilities in Escambia County and neighboring Santa Rosa County, according to an Escambia County spokesperson. About 600 prisoners were in the building at the time.

Immediate family only of inmates may call the Escambia County Citizen Information Line at (850) 471-6600  with the name of the inmate they are inquiring about and a contact number for their call to be returned. A phone call will be returned with status of the inmate and their whereabouts. Citizens are urged not to go to the jail.

Family members of jail employees can call (850) 554-1430 for more information. Family members of jail employees transported to Baptist or Gulf Breeze hospitals will be allowed to gather and receive information at the hospital emergency rooms.

Baptist Hospital reported receiving 50 patients, and Gulf Breeze Hospital received 31 — all with non life-threatening injuries.

People as far away as Molino and Gulf Breeze reported feeling or hearing the blast.

The explosion is under investigation by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The Escambia County Jail, including Central Booking and Detention Facility, are operated under the direction of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners, not the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.  Sheriff David Morgan relinquished control of the jail to the BOCC last October.

Pictured top: At least two people were killed and about 150 injured in an apparent natural gas explosion Escambia County Central Booking and Detention Facility late Wednesday night. Picture inset:  Concerned family members gather outside the jail. Reader submitted photos for, click to enlarge.


60 Responses to “Escambia County Jail Explosion Claims Two Lives, 184 Injured”

  1. Mom on May 5th, 2014 12:50 pm

    I can corroborate Mr. Wells’ son’s account. The CO’s had no clue how to respond to a disaster. When inmates took charge to exit the front stairwell, the door at bottom was locked and the CO’s did not have a key. The inmates charged the door with a table. The inmates carried injured mates out.

    The jail is negligent here in its lack of preparation.

  2. ECSO Deputy on May 4th, 2014 2:43 pm

    Bill Wells. I’m not saying that your son is a liar but Deputies, Correction Officers, State Troopers and Officers from the City were there and working on getting people out within minutes. I don’t recall seeing you there helping out.

  3. Theone on May 4th, 2014 12:29 pm

    Lessened learned. Stay out of Jail!

  4. facts on May 3rd, 2014 7:31 pm

    Not bashing jails, it just appears when you research the two jails, one has higher expectations than the other. Found the Santa Rosa jail has a facebook page that gives out information to the public. One appears to be transparent in their operations and when you google or check you tube, they seem to be operated at a higher standard. We as citizens might want the commissioners to hire them away and give them a try at our jail. Might be best thing that could happen for all of us. I also researched fhe DOJ website and read the report. Scary stuff

  5. need new help on May 3rd, 2014 7:02 pm

    Google DOJ Escambia County Jail, the Commissioners might want to hire the crew at the Santa Rosa Jail to run their facility. Apples v lemons

  6. bill wells on May 3rd, 2014 5:39 pm

    My son was there when the explosion occurred , most notable thing I was told was after the explosion ,the co’s were not to be found .The inmates were doing their own recovery and transport of the injured . and at least 30 minutes lapsed before any first responders appeared . These were the hardest offenders (traffic violators ,bad checks , weed possession ) they went where the co’s feared .

  7. g on May 2nd, 2014 6:28 pm

    Hope and pray for all that was injured or lost loved ones. To be honest if ur loved one didn’t screw up they wouldn’t be in jail.

  8. Chris B on May 2nd, 2014 2:37 pm

    Charlie, yea they should be able to drop everything and tell people where the inmates and guards are going once they get there.
    I’m sure like DOC everything will be portrayed as a “security threat”. That’s the response when a reasonable explanation can’t be made.
    But yes, once all the inmates have arrived wherever they were being sent, it should have been stated as such. I’m sure there were several lists checked ten times over for who was going where.
    Oh, and Charlie, those guards ship guys around like cattle every single day. If you’ve ever seen a busy court run you would know. Sticking 40 people In a non ventilated room that’s 10′x20′ is just disgusting. Most of them guys are probably sleeping on a floor somewhere wishing they were at they’re own jail. They’re not animals though. I have an extremely violent history with numerous robbery convictions and years of prison to prove it. But you’d never know it by looking at me or my $60k per year job as a project manager. Nobody has ever refused to take my money now how bout that ?

  9. Louise on May 2nd, 2014 1:05 pm

    Victoria Holloway: The commissioners were in the Emergency Operations Center, and since then have been touring damaged areas, talking to State officials trying to get us some help. Anything else you want to know or complain about?

  10. LEO Family on May 2nd, 2014 10:22 am
    Instead of being negative, lets get together as a community and help this officer and his family. This is what community should be about, helping each other…not pointing the finger. Get well soon, Officer Hankinson!

  11. Trish on May 2nd, 2014 9:50 am

    Charlie — The only reason the sheriff gave the jail to the county is because there were several state violations that had been made and judgement with fines were getting ready to come down on Morgan. What better way to get out of it than to tell the county that you don’t want to fund the jail and employees any more. Maybe if the sheriff had taken care of problems as he should have then the state would not have issued hefty fines which the county now has to pay.

  12. Jackie Oliveira on May 2nd, 2014 9:13 am

    This just brought me to tears …i have two loved ones in there and i pray for their safety..

  13. jus saying on May 2nd, 2014 3:45 am

    From Chris B,…….How come nobody reported about the truck with armed guards followed by three empty prison buses and a van with armed guards from Century prison traveling south on hwy 29 @ kingsfield @ 9 am yesterday “before” the blast. There have certainly been no other news reports of prisoners having to be transferred due to flooding

    Thats because those were cci officers evacuating inmates from pensacola work release the facility flooded that had nothing to do with the blast at the jail

  14. D on May 1st, 2014 11:28 pm

    Wonder if ole Morgan mentioned the fact that his employees have been complaining of the smell of natural gas for the last year (when he was in charge of the jail) and did nothing about it

  15. huhmmm.... on May 1st, 2014 11:06 pm

    Wonder if the whole or accual truth is realy being released, reguarding the cause of this unfortunate event, the accual number of inmates residing at the facilaty, or the accual number of persons injured and the seriousness of those injured. If you would like GOOGLE “Department of Justice investigation of escambia county jail”. This investigation concluded nearly 7 months ago and contains a 21 page summary of findings that are very eye opening to say the least.

  16. Charlie F. on May 1st, 2014 10:19 pm

    Trish—Now that you have “discussed” your feelings, I think you meant to say “disgusted”. I find it hard to believe that some of you seem to feel that information should be immediately available to anyone at anytime, & instantly. I am surprised that with an explosion of this magnitude, that any information came as soon as it did. It probably knocked out their computer system, which would be their primary source of records. With a smaller number of guards compared to inmates, & trying to get 600 inmates out, some 150 or more being injured, both inmates & guards, & trying to keep track of & arrange transport for inmates to other facilities, do you really think they should have just dropped everything, so your questions could be answered immediately for your instant satisfaction? Welcome to the real world, not the TV world as someone mentioned, where everything is solved in 60 minutes.

  17. JT on May 1st, 2014 9:15 pm

    I find it interesting that the jail falls under the authority of the county commissioners and everyone is lining up to blame the Sheriff. If many of these “concerned” family members would be this interested in the lives of the people at the jail when there wasn’t a potential paycheck involved they might not be there in the first place.

  18. county commissioner's problem on May 1st, 2014 9:04 pm

    It’s clearly the county commissioner’s problem. If I was Morgan I wouldn’t say a word. Let the commissioner’s put their faces on tv and let them answer all of the question that our citizens have. Morgan doesn’t know where the inmates are and it’s none of his business. I feel bad for the family that cannot get in contact with their members however they are asking the questions to the wrong person and department. The escambia county sheriff’s office does not manage the jail. The news just likes to put Morgan under pressure because his title is the one of sheriff. Hope everything gets solved as soon as possible.

  19. Chris B on May 1st, 2014 8:19 pm

    I agree that it’s a cover-up of some sort. You hear of gangs but the biggest gang is “law enforcement”. Get caught up being in the wrong place at the wrong time by giving someone a ride who has drugs on them, get pulled over, searched, and the guy you gave a ride has slipped the drugs behind and under your seat and you may be one of those in the hospital or on a slab. Nobody cares. Gotta treat yourself like #1 cuz nobody else will.
    How come nobody reported about the truck with armed guards followed by three empty prison buses and a van with armed guards from Century prison traveling south on hwy 29 @ kingsfield @ 9 am yesterday “before” the blast. There have certainly been no other news reports of prisoners having to be transferred due to flooding.

  20. John on May 1st, 2014 8:11 pm

    Trish: The jail system now belongs to the County Commissioners. Sheriff Morgan has nothing to do with it. All individuals need to take a chill pill. If the individuals had behaved themselves they wouldn’t be in jail. Now this post should get a lot of attention for me not carrying. I do care about the individuals but everyone wants a head on the chopping block before the investigation is completed. If proven that someone knew about the gas as news reported they need to get a cell ready for them. Where is Gene at ?

  21. Mark on May 1st, 2014 7:10 pm

    That’s what happens when the county commissioners take over anything. It’s not Sheriff Morgans job any more. it’s those 5 egos on the commission who thought they could do better. Morale for jail employees went down with very poor leadership and stripping them from all benefits.

  22. retired on May 1st, 2014 6:42 pm

    County Commissioners do not know how to run a jail. You lose standards when the Sheriff does not operate the jail. How is this going to save taxpayer money now. The county will be paying our massive amounts to settle with inmates or money rewarded with court actions. Where is the camera loving commissioner who argued with Sheriff Morgan over the staffing issues. Where are your commissioners now? A jail is a huge liability, it must be operated within the law enforcement framework. The Sheriff is not to blame, the Commissioners are responsible.

  23. Justin Hall on May 1st, 2014 6:37 pm

    @ Trish.

    Sheriff Morgan has nothing to do with the jail. As of a few months ago the jail is operated by the Escambia County Commission. Before you insult the intelligence of the sheriff make sure you know what is going on. It is not the problem of ECSO where these inmates are sent the jail is a separate entity.

  24. EMD on May 1st, 2014 6:36 pm

    The jail is NOT David Morgan’s responsibility anymore. Only the County Sheriff’s Department. The county would not give him the money he needed to run it. At least that was my understanding. I do not know why people complain about folks when they do not have the knowledge of the job that others are in charge of. That is why I used to wish that there was a liaison person for patient’s, their families and the medical staff. I have only spoken with Sheriff Morgan once or twice. I think he is a very nice person. I do not know him personally, but I liked some things he said. He probably has no idea how impressed I was about what I heard him say, and I had not even asked a question. I had just shared something with him. I did not expect his compassionate statement that was only a comment about what I had shared with him. A lawman with a heart is NOT a bad thing. There is NO WAY I believe that he is non-caring as you seem to believe. In fact, I believe he cares more for the inmates than most of the people I know.

  25. Lady on May 1st, 2014 6:20 pm

    I understand this jail did not house the people that were the worst crimiinals but the minor criminal infractions so that says the jail was overcrowded and these poor people were in there for anything from drugs to any other minor infraction. They are held for long periods of time so the lawyers, judges,including State court that are housed in Pensacola can get the maximum money from these families. The county dismisses thse cases then the State picks the cases up and makes more money. Those kinds of inmates should be processed more quickly. I don’t blame Sheriff Morgan turning the jails over to the Escambia County Commissioners because he had been trying to get some of these safety measures taken care of and hit a brick wall. Now let’s see how the Commission pays for thes damages.m, Thank God no more of the employees and inmates lost their lives.

  26. Me on May 1st, 2014 6:06 pm

    @Trish: The jail is not under the Sheriff anymore in any way, shape or form… if’s, and’s, or but’s. It is under the BOCC. The Sheriff’s Office has no more connection to that jail than Pensacola PD does.

  27. T Smith on May 1st, 2014 5:42 pm

    I honestly can’t believe this is happening. First off, My husband was in there and said he smelled the gas for a week and was even worse in the days of the jail having no ac because of the flooding. Why are no gas detectors inside this jail? and why would anyone allow people to stay in a building you could smell gas? he said all they did was leave a door open with a box fan???!! WTH?!! Noone deserves this kind of treatment and now lives have been lost. of course Sherriff M takes no responsibility as usual. he seems more concerned about the jobs lost and cars than these people’s lives. as far as I am concerned, this place should not have people housed in it if they cant enforce the codes. this proves what a corrupt system we have. very sad. not everyone in jail should be there and even if so, shouldn’t be treated as they nothing. I have seen between this and the reason my husband was in there how corrupt Escambia county is and how it is guilty until proven guilty bc they will do anything to keep you there to make money. where is all the money they get for ripping even the people in there off charging ungodly amounts for food and even a bar of soap? Escambia county jails, police offices and judges need to be investigated. I have never seen such corruption and negligence in my life!!!!! utterly disgusted. there is no justice anymore!

  28. Darlene on May 1st, 2014 5:35 pm

    My daughter called me about noon on on Wed. scared because the generator right outside her window had strong gas fume smell.She was very worried, I didn’t know what to do. Corrections officers told them it was” SAFE NATURAL GAS”, no gas is safe. Thank God she didn’t feel well & didn’t go do her JOB buffing jail floors last night. She would have been on bottom floor instead of 4th floor & would be dead! She’s been sick with stomach problems since eating tainted chicken served Christmas, that come to find out Tyson had recalled, & it had been sent to jails, etc.. She’s mostly living off chips & Ramen Noodles that cost me a small fortune. Jail may be free for some, but not all. They charge outragous fees on 12.08 for for a few packs chips plus 4.50 handling fee. More important all these comments about lawyers, the family of the dead sure do need to get a lawyer, if Sheriff’s CO’s had paid attention,like they did when Gov. Scott smelled gas on Piedmont St. this could have been prevented!! Just because it was @ a jail, those people are human, very low risk.crimes…. some of you with your wise crack remarks have probably done worse than my daughter, & YOU just have not been caught YET!!!! Or it could be your loved one with next horror story. I wish all the ones of you with your wise cracks could have been in our shoes @ Piccadilly early this a.m. it was like something you see on TV!!. Wake up world, have a heart, reach out with some care & compassion for the inmates,jail workers & families. My prayers go out to all. I finally got to talk to my daughter about 1pm, over 12 hrs. of not knowing. She can’t close her eyes w/o seeing the HUGE BALL OF FIRE outside her window, being thrown from her bunk, then could get out because with no power, couldn’t get doors unlocked. A weird thing, she was listening to song” Rocky Mountain High” (about death), just as it got to the part about SKY DIVING, is when the explosion happened….. Thank God he was watching over my child whose own 6yr. old child needs her mommy ! STOP THE UGLY & PRAY!!! These inmates & workers have gone through a very traumatic experience. Some are going to need counseling, please pray for them!!

  29. Kim on May 1st, 2014 4:33 pm

    Prayers to those affected by this tragic accident. For the record, the Sheriff has nothing to do with running the jail. The jail, its employees, facilities and inmates became the responsibility of Escambia County Board of County Commissioners on October 1, 2013. The Escambia County Sheriff’s Department has nothing to do with the records involving inmates housed at Escambia County Jail.

  30. 429SCJ on May 1st, 2014 4:03 pm

    My neighbor told me early this morning that it was the jail in Brewton that exploded.

    Prayers for all.

  31. CO on May 1st, 2014 4:02 pm

    Get a life you idiots. There were lives lost and people hurt. And all I am hearing is money and law suit and the poor tax payers. I just hope that all the workers and inmates are ok

  32. concerned on May 1st, 2014 3:49 pm

    . We just pray for the ones that have lost a love one in this mess. They have needed to reloacte the jail for a long time… Maybe now it will happen.
    And for the lady with the young child that was on PNJ sitting in the parking lot of Picadilly’s.. PUT that CHILD in a car set…. Be as concerned about his life as you are the inmate…. Just saying.. That is the LAW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Thank you to all EMS & 1st responders for your again, exausting night of work

  33. Molino Mom on May 1st, 2014 3:11 pm

    Good sayin’ Alarmed and Armed. Most of you folks do not know what you’re talking about. Gas smells were not reported to the proper authorities. And Central Booking does not hold 600 inmates. I know for a fact that the inmates screw up the video visitation TV’s and electrical outlets in this facility. The sheriff does not oversee CBD or the jail. This building should have never been remodeled since it has been damaged before and it is very old. I know you folks are worried over the inmates & co’s, please be patient. At least the majority will be ok. You will get your answers. I know this will hit some nerves, so be it.

  34. jeeperman on May 1st, 2014 2:59 pm

    Reports of smelling gas for several days prior to the storm does not bode well for jail management.
    A new kitchen with many gas appliances that just went online last week could be the problem.

  35. Kimberly Whisenant on May 1st, 2014 2:59 pm

    I’m the wife of an inmate who was in that jail to all u ppl will the remarks bout getting paid me & my childfen wouldnt takd all tbe $ in the world for a day with their dad. We dont know if he is ok or not…. the last thing on our minds is $…. the inmates r paying for their wrungs so y shouldnt the county or state

  36. jeeperman on May 1st, 2014 2:56 pm

    I see a field of army tents and pink overalls for all inmates coming our way soon.

  37. Trish on May 1st, 2014 2:10 pm

    I am discussed at how stupid Sheriff Morgan thinks the public is! One of the first things out of his mouth was it was not his fault, the county needed to be contacted. Not having a list of prisoners and where they went? I understand the confusion when something horrible happens but with all of the Emergency Management procedures that have been in place since Ivan I find it hard to believe that no one has access to a list of names of people in the building or where anyone went. It is appalling the way families have been treated. Does no one care because these individuals were in jail, therefore their life is inconsequential? Could be anyone’s child that was taken in for something as minor as a traffic offence and mom and dad wanted to teach them a lesson by not posting their bail. Families should not be shuffled off from one person to another. I am ashamed of our sheriff for his lack of caring about all of those under his command; officers, corrections employees and inmates. Yes you handed the building and employees over to the county but the jail is your responsibility, no if’s, and’s or but’s. We need to pray for all of those families, but if our attitudes are arrogant and uncaring then we also need to pray for each other.

  38. Pop on May 1st, 2014 1:58 pm

    This has got LAWSUITS written all over it! Especially if gas had been leaking for several days and nothing done.

  39. Max on May 1st, 2014 1:21 pm

    I know today that the Sheriff is elated that the county commissioners took the jail back over!

  40. Corey on May 1st, 2014 1:20 pm

    Such a terrible tragedy! Many thoughts and prayers to all involved. We heard this all the way in Seminole, Alabama. At first we assumed that we were hearing thunder. It only happened twice back to back and that was it. This is awful!

  41. No Excuses on May 1st, 2014 12:51 pm

    The primary concern of the jail and law enforcement officials is that none of the inmates have escaped. Then, medical care for all who need it. Notifying families as soon as this has been accomplished AND the inmates have been re-housed elsewhere will then take place. Be patient. They know you want to know, but they are doing their jobs as they have been trained to do them. There is a sea of paperwork that must be completed just to do a transfer. I can’t imagine what it’s like with that many people involved.

  42. BD on May 1st, 2014 12:28 pm

    yep, and the word on the street has it that the prisoners were ALL saying “we gonna get PAID from this” as the stack of lawyers/ambulance chasers got in line. Now the taxpayers will have to pay even more for something that we(the hard working taxpayers) have no say in at all.
    Prayers go to the injured and fallen but also hope for poetic justice for those who seek to get something for nothing.

  43. Rufus Lowgun on May 1st, 2014 12:07 pm

    “How does the smell of gas just get pused to the side when you have human beings living and working in this building?????”

    Because for many people, the second someone goes to jail, they stop being a human being.

  44. Kimberly Whisenant on May 1st, 2014 12:06 pm

    I want to know if my husband is ok my chdren r cryin & scared

  45. bri on May 1st, 2014 11:52 am

    Praying for everyone glad my mom and sister Ariel is ok

  46. ME on May 1st, 2014 11:46 am

    Im wondering how many millionares will come from this accident ?? Line up the lawyers !~

  47. savannah on May 1st, 2014 11:22 am

    I was in there April the 2 was when I got released and I smelled gas all the time on the yard

  48. family member of an inmate on May 1st, 2014 11:02 am

    We have been told from an inmate that they have been smelling gas for weeks whenever they were outside for yard time…they were told it is from the work that has been going on in the kicthen! How does the smell of gas just get pused to the side when you have human beings living and working in this building?????

  49. Cathleen farroll on May 1st, 2014 10:40 am

    We heard 2 blasts in Cantonment! My husband even went outside to try to figure out what it was- thought a tree branch had fallen on house- that is how much we felt and heard it!

  50. Elizabeth Carlson on May 1st, 2014 8:54 am

    This is a horrible tragedy and we as families and friends are getting little information. A number has been put up to call if you have a family member working in the facility (a guard or such) but we cannot call that number for prisoner information. Where do we go for this information? There are 600 inmates in that facility and by now you should have set up a call center at the Sheriff’s Office for us. We need to know at least if they are safe! Where they have gone and what facility you might transfer them to? I know you are in a place of chaos but we are in a place of panic ~ try to step into our shoes for just one moment! We need answers!

  51. morgan weavee on May 1st, 2014 8:46 am

    Prayers to all corrections officers and inmates prayers for a fast recovery and prayers to all the families and friends of the victims!

  52. Alarmed and Armed on May 1st, 2014 8:44 am

    Its crazy how the reports are coming in from “outraged” family members who demand to know information about their loved ones. This is a prime example of how TV and internet create these Hollywood expectations and demands from disasters. Thats not how it works and especially in here in Escambia county, one of the poorest most impoverished countries in Florida. Even with the best resources available and known to the finest departments in the world you won’t get a solid answer for days of casualties. You don’t find things out on demand or right away or even just a few hours. Welcome to the real world. Not every thing is like it is on the TV.. get out from behind the TV and live some real life people.

  53. Nowhere Man on May 1st, 2014 8:41 am

    Family members should gather at the Piccaddily parking lot and wait for information.

    Where should the Lawyers gather?

  54. Patricia Kirby on May 1st, 2014 8:36 am

    This is such bad news and I will keep those injured and the Families of the injured in my prayers! May God put his HEALING HANDS UPON EACH OF THEM!!

  55. just watching on May 1st, 2014 8:13 am

    Hope everyone is ok. Sorry for the familys who lost someone.

  56. Kimberly on May 1st, 2014 7:26 am

    My prayers go out to the families that lost loved ones and to the injured.
    I wonder if the partial building collapse is due to the storm?
    It seems that today being “National Day of Prayer” it would be a great time to pray for our community, country, families and to be grateful for what we have and for the our hero’s that fight on foreign soil for our freedom and for the hero’s that live here in our community that risk their lives to save others without being asked to and without being identified. It makes me proud and gives me hope!

  57. victoria holloway on May 1st, 2014 6:06 am

    why are you sending worried loved ones to piccadillys… the only info given out was to go home, look online, and watch tv really.

  58. Andrea peacock on May 1st, 2014 5:27 am

    When using generators to supply the jail with power. What protocol was taken to detect gas. There are gas detectors that should have been used. You have human beings trapped in a facility that they can not run in the event of explosion. There were numerous gas leaks around town . This was common knowledge of many in Pensacola after the severe weather we just had. No body took safety as being of importance here. Now two confirmed dead.

  59. RONNIE R LUCAS on May 1st, 2014 5:21 am

    where he is or what hospital

  60. concerned on May 1st, 2014 4:47 am

    Praying for all involved