Family Of Victims Issue Statement

Darryl Woodson and Mattie Marsh

Tuesday evening - A spokesman for the Roger Roberts family issued the following statement late this afternoon.

"An explosion in the 9 o'clock hour of Friday, May 20, at South River Market has left two families to mourn the loss of their loved ones. We grieve with the Ruley family as they suffer the loss of their dedicated husband, father, and son, Paul Ruiey. Paul has a regular patron at South River Market, but more importantly, he was a friend.

"Our unlost seems insurmountable, but with God, we will heal as a family as we grieve our husband, father, grandfather, and brother Roger Roberts; son and father Kevin Roberts; and wife, daughter, mother, and granddaughter, Samantha Roberts Lewis. We wish to thank the community for the outpouring of love and support.

"Those who wish to honor the memory of Paul Ruley, Roger Roberts, Kevin Roberts, or Samantha Lewis with a monetary contribution are welcome to visit Bank of Botetourt in Lexington where the families of each descendant have the memorial account. Injured patrons also have accounts for contributions, but we are honoring their privacy by not disclosing their names. Obituaries and celebration of life announcement are forthcoming."


Monday evening - The Virginia State Police confirmed Monday that Roger Lee Roberts, 69, the owner of the South River Market and one of four injured in Friday's explosion, died Saturday morning from his injuries at the VCU Medical Center.

The remains of three unidentified bodies found at the site of the explosion remain at the medical examiner's office in Roanoke for examination, autopsy and positive identification to be made. Confirming the individuals' identities could take several days.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. Friday morning, the Rockbridge County Sheriff's Office and Rockbridge County Fire-Rescue & Emergency Management responded to reports of an explosion at the South River Market & Gas Station at the intersection of Old Buena Vista Road and South River Road.

At the request of the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation's Salem Field Office is conducting an investigation into the cause and origin of the explosion. At this stage of the investigation, the incident does not appear suspicious in nature. However, the incident remains an active scene and active investigation.

4 p.m. Saturday - According to a statement just released by the Virginia State Police, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation is confirming that three set of remains have been recovered from the site of yesterday's explosion and fire at the South River Market.  Those remains have been transported to the medical examiner's for identification, which may take several days.  

"The Virginia State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigation is treating the fire as a criminal investigation due to the fact that the cause of the fire is unknown.  Until criminal activity is ruled out, this will be treated as a criminal matter."

The state police spokesman noted that there seems to be some confusion in the media that this has turned into a criminal investigation.  The fact is, every investigation starts as criminal; until proven otherwise, he said.

More will follow as received.

3 p.m. – Firefighters and police are still on the scene of this morning’s explosion at South River Market, as the investigation continues into the possibility that several people may have died in the fire.

At a press conference around 1 p.m. today on the nearby bridge over South River, Nathan Ramsey, Rockbridge County fire and EMS chief, said, “What we know right now is that we transported four patients to the hospital from the scene. We are still concerned that is possible there were victims inside.”

When asked, Ramsey said he did not know whether one of those taken to Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital had been airlifted to another facility.

The building, located on Old Buena Vista Road at its intersection with South River Road, was completely aflame when fire and rescue units arrived after the call at about 9:21 a.m. The fire is under control and emergency services do not have fears of re-ignition, Ramsey said.

“There was heavy fire throughout, high heat and a lot of damage,” said Ramsey. 

Family members of victims and possible missing persons are gathered this afternoon nearby in Mountain View Elementary School with professionals and counselors provided by the Red Cross.

As a precaution just after the explosion, students, teachers and staff at Mountain View were evacuated by bus to Rockbridge County High School, where parents picked their children up. Teachers and staff were bused back to Mountain View later to pick up their cars.

Asked at the press conference if he had seen a fire of this magnitude before, Ramsey said the South River Market fire is the largest in “quite some time”

The fire’s immensity was fueled by the South River Market building itself, as well as the gasoline tanks.

“The typical fuel level of a store of this magnitude is a lot,” said Ramsey, “especially with the amount of fire load in the store and the fuel products out back.”

The scene is now under investigation by the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Salem, while fire crews clear the site of debris.

“At this point, we are in the overhaul mode, hitting hot spots,” said Ramsey. “We are going to have to remove a large part of the metal roofing area and work closely with our law enforcement for investigation.”

Sgt. Richard Garletts of the Virginia State Police said the cause of the fire “does not appear suspicious in nature at this point.”


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