Gasoline fueled deadly explosion

The Gergely family's home appeared, from the outside, to be a typical residence in the Deerfield development of Mountain View.

A garden sits at the front of the yard near a swing set, and children's sporting equipment is scattered throughout the property.

But inside the residence, George L. Gergely Jr., 42, stored six cans of gasoline and firearms after a reported suicide attempt the day before his house exploded.

A call for help

Gergely's wife, Michele, called 9-1-1 on Sunday about 1:05 p.m. to report her husband was having suicidal thoughts and threatening to harm himself.

"My husband tried to kill himself last night, and he's not doing well today," Michele told a Catawba County communications operator during a 9-1-1 call released Monday. "I'm afraid for his life."

She said Gergely took "a bunch of pills" Saturday night, and when the family returned home, he was lying on the floor, surrounded by guns.

"He slept most of the night," Michele told the 9-1-1 operator. "And he's up now, and he's just really irritable."

A member of the sheriff's office road patrol asked Michele to leave the house and meet him at the entrance to the Deerfield neighborhood.

Michele agreed and met the deputy about 1:20 p.m. Reid said Gergely and Michele have three school-aged children, but Reid didn't know if they were in the car with Michele when she met the deputy. The children, however, weren't in the house with their father.

On the 9-1-1 recording, Michele told the operator that she called someone to take her children out of their home. The deputy advised Michele to see a Catawba County magistrate and take an involuntary commitment order against her husband. The deputy also called the family's residence on Willowbottom Road to speak with Gergely, but he didn't answer the phone, Reid said.

A sheriff's deputy road patrol supervisor decided to send the county's Special Tactics and Response (STAR) team to the residence after speaking with Michele, who told deputies her husband threatened suicide and there were several guns in the house.

Catawba County communications administrator Jerry Boggs said Sunday's 9-1-1 call was the first time emergency responders were dispatched to the residence, according to the county's communications records. The records, Boggs said, date back to 1997.

STAR responds

STAR team members arrived at the Gergely residence about 3:10 p.m. Sunday and started setting up a perimeter around the house. Reid said one of the responders saw Gergely through one of the home's windows shortly before an explosion rocked the house about 3:20 p.m. The explosion sent flames through the middle of the house.

"About the time the SWAT team showed up, I had my eyes on the garage door, and every window and the garage door blew out of the house," said Mike Minter, who lives a few doors down from the Gergely residence.

People on the scene also reported the sounds of about eight to 10 shots immediately following the first explosion. Reid said officers don't know if Gergely fired the shots or if ammunition in the house caught fire.

Another explosion inside the house occurred about one minute after the first explosion. That time, Reid said, the explosion happened on one side of the residence.

The house was fully involved in fire within 10 minutes of the first explosion.

Reid said investigators discovered six cans of gasoline inside the residence. He theorized that Gergely had the cans dispersed throughout the house.

Firefighters from multiple county agencies, including Mountain View, Cooksville and Hickory fire departments, responded to the fire.

Terri Byers, of the Hickory Fire Department, said an engine and one tanker truck were dispatched at 3:38 p.m. for mutual aid.

Tanker trucks, like Hickory's, can carry more than 1,000 gallons of water, and Byers said the extra water was likely why Hickory was dispatched to the scene.

Rebecca Jernigan, who lives near the Gergely residence, said water was drawn from lakes and ponds to help fight the fire.

During the incident, Gergely's family was stationed at a sheriff's office command post set up in a church on N.C. 127. Gergely was the only person harmed during the incident.

The aftermath

Sunday's explosion marks the first in years of experience for the STAR team.

"This is the first time this has happened to us," Reid told The O-N-E on Sunday evening, while investigators were still on the scene.

Gergely's body was located about 11:30 p.m. Police cleared the scene about 1 a.m., which is 12 hours after the incident was first reported.

The State Bureau of Investigation's arson team was on the scene to determine what caused the explosion. Reid said the house had a propane gas line, and it's possible that was a factor in the explosion.

Caution tape sectioned off portions of the Gergely's front yard Monday, as several curious onlookers drove slowly by what is left of the residence.

Charred remains of the home's contents are pushed along the residence's remaining foundation. The home's chimney remains standing.