News briefs from around Tennessee at 1:58 a.m. EST

Friday, February 28, 2014

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Investigators: Blast at Tenn. plant accidental

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A deadly explosion at a military flare plant in West Tennessee was an accident and not caused by a criminal act, federal investigators said Thursday.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Saturday’s explosion at the Kilgore Flares plant in Toone occurred in a mixing room. The preliminary findings showed the blast was accidental, but they did not include an exact cause. Records show that six people have died in explosions or fires at the plant since 1993.

The latest explosion severely burned Michael Chism on more than 90 percent of his body. Chism was hospitalized and died on Monday. Residents of Toone, a town of about 350 people located about 60 miles east-northeast of Memphis, planned a vigil for Chism on Thursday night.

Kilgore makes air and naval decoy flares for the military, including infrared ones that help aircraft and ships counter the threat of guided missiles. Components used in production are highly flammable.

Kilgore has a 264-acre plant and a 242-acre test site in Toone, according to its website. Kilgore was founded in 1920 and became a major military contractor during World War II. It is owned by Chemring Group PLC, a British company that bought it in 2001.

In September 2010, three people were severely burned in a flash fire at the plant. One victim died a year later. Investigators found no definitive cause for that explosion, but their report says the problems were likely made worse by employees overloading their work stations with flammable materials. The company was cited for 14 violations and fined $348,000.

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State Rep. Mike Turner retiring after 14 years

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said Thursday that he will not seek re-election because he wants to spend more time with his family and explore a run for Nashville mayor.

Turner told members of the House of Representatives on Thursday that he will retire at the end of the year after serving 14 years in District 51, which covers the areas of Old Hickory, Madison, east Nashville, downtown Nashville and Germantown.

“This is a hard place to quit,” Turner said in an emotional address to his colleagues. “But I will not be running this time around.”

The 59-year-old, who has served as caucus chairman since 2009, later told reporters that his family was a major factor in his decision.

“After some hard thoughts, … my family and I have decided it’s time for me to move on to the next stretch of my life,” said Turner, who has three daughters. “We’re going to take a trip or two with the girls this summer.”

He said he’s also strongly considering a run for mayor.

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