Police: Victims poured gas into engine before van blast

Police: Victims poured gas into engine before van blast
BELLEVUE, Wash. -- An open gas container and a Jerry-rigged system of putting gas into the car while driving is the root cause of the explosion that left two men and a woman burned in Bellevue Wednesday afternoon, Bellevue police said Thursday.

- View photos of fire scene

The woman told investigators Thursday they were having trouble keeping their Ford Econoline van running, so they went to a Factoria gas station to get gas. They didn't have a gas can, instead filling an open bucket with two gallons of gas.

Police say the three had removed the engine cowling between the two front seats of the van and used a water bottle to transfer gas from the bucket directly into the carburetor in order to keep the engine running as they drove east on Kamber Road, said police spokeswoman Carla Iafrate.

By now, the van was full of gas fumes, Iafrate said, and the van stalled again just before 145th Place SE. As they tried to restart it, the van exploded.

The van became fully engulfed in flames and began to roll backwards.

"The whole van... was engulfed in red flames," said witness Julie Sarchet. "The people were saying, 'Honey, I love you! Are you OK? Stay calm.' "

Other witnesses told police the woman jumped out the back of the van and fell to the ground on fire, and the van rolled over her leg. The two men jumped out in flames and ran toward the Chevron station on the corner desperate to get their fires out. One man made it into the gas station and tried to douse himself with water.

Firefighters were able to get the van fire out within minutes and medics took the three victims to Harborview Medical Center. They are still there Thursday but their conditions are not known. Wednesday, police said two were seriously burned and third suffered minor burns.

Iafrate said the three victims were all from Bellevue but did not release their identities.