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Police: Drag Racing Led To Deadly Crash Into Oil Pipeline

UPDATED 03/05/12 4:04 p.m.

NEW LENOX TOWNSHIP, Ill. (CBS) -- Police said Monday that the drivers of two vehicles were drag racing when they crashed through a fence and slammed into an oil pipeline over the weekend, sparking a fire that killed two people.

A Ford Mustang and a sport-utility vehicle were speeding side-by-side down a desolate street early Saturday when they went through a chain-link fence at a dead end and crashed into an oil pipeline, causing a fire, officials said.

The two men in the Mustang, who have been identified as Zachary Orel and Bart Lenz, perished in the blaze.

At 2:05 a.m. Saturday, Will County Sheriff's police and New Lenox firefighters responded to the explosion of an Enbridge Energy pipeline in an industrial park east of Schoolhouse Road and south of Old Plank Road Trail, reports said.

The Ford Mustang, which had two people inside, and the SUV, which had three occupants, were apparently side by side when they went through the fence and traveled approximately 125 feet onto the property before striking the pipeline, igniting the crude oil inside.

A worker said the impact with the pipe appeared to have "sheared off" the top of the Mustang.

The two people in the Mustang died in the crash. One of the fatalities has been identified as Zachary Orel, 25, a rookie Posen firefighter. The other was identified as New Lenox resident Bart Lenz.

Zachary Orel
Posen firefighter Zachary Orel was killed when a vehicle struck an oil pipeline in New Lenox early on March 3, 2012. (Family Photo)

The pipeline was reportedly burning until 5 a.m. Saturday The crude oil leak was capped at 8 a.m., said Rich Adams, vice president of U.S. operations for Enbridge Energy Company.

"When you hit a liquid fuel line, usually it's not very good. They can ignite and there was ignition," New Lenox Fire Protection District Chief Jon Mead said.

As WBBM Newsradio's Regine Schlesinger reports, Larry Springer of Enbridge Energy says crews are working on the around the clock to fix the pipeline.

"Removing any contaminated soil that is around and that has to be properly disposed of," Springer said, "and once we have the pipeline exposed where we can work on it, then we have to see what the damage was and apply the proper repair techniques."

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Regine Schlesinger reports


A leak at Enbridge's Romeoville pipeline in 2010 led to a spike in Chicago area gas prices. It is unclear whether that will happen again this time. The company hopes one of the damaged pipelines will be fixed by Wednesday and the other, by Thursday.

Following the accident, firefighters rushed three men to Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet for treatment, Mead said.

Two men were soon transferred to the burn unit at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, New Lenox police Chief Bob Sterba said. One man was so badly injured, he was airlifted via helicopter, he said.

The five men are all were their 20s and reside in New Lenox, Sterba said.

"This is horrible, horrible, horrible," Sterba said. Added Posen Mayor Donald Schupek: "I'm sorry that it's such a waste of young life."

The two passengers of the Trailblazer, Patrick T. Hall, 22, and William R. Monreal, 20, reportedly told Will County Sheriff's police the driver, Michael G. Piersman, 21, was knocked unconscious, but they were able to get him from the SUV and pull him to safety, sheriff's spokeswoman Kathy Hoffmeyer said.

"As the fire spread, the three ran to the corners of the fenced-in area. Two were able to climb out at one corner and the third man climbed the fence at another corner as a New Lenox officer and a deputy arrived on the scene," Hoffmeyer said.

Reports said Piersman and Monreal suffered "severe burns from the waist down."

All three were taken to Silver Cross Hospital.

At the hospital, the surviving victims told police the group of five men had been out drinking at a nearby bar, before deciding to race their vehicles, reports said.

New Lenox police officer Eric Etchison was at Schoolhouse and Laraway roads, about a half-mile from the accident, when he saw the flames and rushed to the scene, Sterba said.

Etchison was the first emergency responder on the scene and "did a great job" helping three men get out of the fenced-in area, Sterba said.

However, he was unable to reach the two men in the other car due to "significant flames," Sterba said.

"He certainly was quite frustrated because the other car, the flames and heat were so intense, he couldn't get near it," Sterba said.

New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann said he knew two of the victims through his son, and played basketball with the men last summer. He declined to name the victims because he was not sure if their families had been notified.

"What a terrible accident. We feel badly for the families and the victims," Baldermann said.

Orel's brother-in-law, Brandon Vainowski, called him "an amazing man who lived life for everything that it was worth."

The SouthtownStar and the Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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