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Crash causes propane gas leak, evacuation

Front Royal Police Chief Norman Shiflett surveys damaged propane tanks behind Kmart after a car ran into them Monday. Police and fire officials evacuated the Royal Plaza Shopping Center two propane tanks developed leaks. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Firefighters stand outside the entrance to Kmart after the Royal Plaza Shopping Center was evacuated after a driver struck propane gas tanks behind the building late Monday afternoon. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Front Royal patrolman D.W. House directs traffic outside the Royal Plaza Shopping Center in Front Royal after a propane gas leak shut down the shopping center for about an hour on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

FRONT ROYAL -- Authorities ordered the evacuation of the Kmart department store and surrounding businesses in the Royal Plaza Shopping Center after a car struck a set of propane tanks at 4:25 p.m. Monday. Two of the tanks developed leaks, sending propane gas into the air.

Front Royal Master Police Officer Steve Mauck said the car's driver, Hunter Minor, 19, of Front Royal, was traveling behind Kmart at 465 South St. when he lost control of the car and hit one of six 1,000-gallon "submarine style" propane tanks.

According to a news release sent by Mauck, the car, a 1996 Oldsmobile Aurora, was headed toward a ditch when Minor turned right and ran into the tanks.

Following the crash, Minor left the scene in the car. Police were able to question him when he turned himself in at the station about an hour after the accident, according to the release.

Police Chief Norman Shiflett, referencing the additive used to make propane leaks easier to detect, noted there was a "strong odor of propane that you can smell in the air."

"Our officers have gone into the stores and driven around and told everybody they must evacuate," he told the Daily at the time of the evacuation.

Shiflett said no injuries had been reported. Four firefighting companies were on the scene, he said.

Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie said the leak was coming from two of the six propane tanks connected with a pipe on top. Tire tracks in the grass leading up to the tanks were still visible after the incident.

Authorities were able to shut off the gas and then deemed it safe for people to return to the businesses less than an hour later.

The release states that Zack King, the police officer investigating the incident, is in the process of obtaining a reckless driving charge for Minor.

Staff writer Joe Beck contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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