NEWBURGH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A police officer walked away from a frightening explosion Tuesday morning in the Orange County town of Newburgh.
The car fire set off equipment that turned the police cruiser into a car bomb, CBS2’s Lou Young reported.
In the first moments after the predawn blast, those living closest to it thought it might’ve been a plane crash. Newburgh’s police chief said when he rolled up to the scene he thought the shattered police car he saw had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade or had run over a landmine.
No one saw the cruiser explode. But everyone remembers the sound.
“You knew it was an explosion. You knew that right away ’cause it wasn’t thunder.”
“It was very loud,” one man said.
“It shook the house, rattled the windows,” said Barbara Brewer, of Newburgh.
Even after the cleanup, there were pieces of the car all over the place. The officer said he smelled smoke, pulled over and radioed in saying he thought his car might be on fire. In the time it took him to open up the car door, the rear of the vehicle blew up.
“There was metal shrapnel and glass that extended at least a hundred feet from the rear of the vehicle outward,” police Chief Donald Campbell said.
It was a potential kill zone that was thankfully empty. The officer, 36-year-old Taras Karabelas, likely owes his life to the metal and Plexiglas partition that seperates the front seat from the rear.
“It was severely dented on the bottom, which the metal actually, more than likely, saved his life, and the Plexiglas on top blew out completely,” Campbell said.
Investigators suspect it was a first-aid oxygen tank in the trunk that contributed to the force of the blast — the department has removed them from all vehicles for the time being. The prime focus of the investigation is what caused the 2014 Ford Taurus cruiser to catch fire to begin with.
Karabellas was treated and released from the hospital but is getting additional tests before returning to duty.