'It was horrific:' Van driver injured in Durham gas explosion reflects one year later

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- One year later, the debris from the gas explosion in Durham is all gone but the site remains flattened and empty.

Richard Meyer was parked nearby on April 10, 2019 when everything exploded around him.

"The Lord preserved my life. I'm grateful for that, because it's been tough. He's been awesome," Meyers said, fighting back tears as he recalled the most difficult year of his life.

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Meyers' Carolina Livery shuttle van was destroyed by the blast last year at 10:06 a.m. Only he and one passenger were on-board.

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"It's really something I've tried to put out of my mind. Because it was horrific. I actually thought I was going to die," Meyers said. "I was waking up every day crying. Just emotion overcoming me."

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The 66-year-old says doctors diagnosed him with PTSD after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

He says back in June, worker's comp stopped providing his medical care.

"My wife and I were upset. We really didn't understand that decision," Meyers said.

Now Meyers has hired a lawyer and is fighting that decision with the industrial commission while footing the bill for health issues he says still exist.

"I have headaches every day. I have ringing in my ears. Probably the biggest challenge is fatigue," Meyers said.

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Businesses downtown were also weakened and today many are still trying to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In all, 25 people were injured by the explosion -- nine of them firefighters.

The gas explosion was due to a broken gas line that Durham Fire Chief Robert Zolodos ruled accidental.

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Seven months after the devastating blast, he told ABC11 one lesson learned is empowering his team to completely shut down streets for gas leaks.

"Us stopping it a little earlier, 30 minutes earlier might have had a little bit more safety for us and we would not have had to worry about people in the street as well," said Robert Zoldos

After the explosion, Meyers went back to work as a bus driver. His schedule went from 40 to 50 hours a week before his injury to less than 15 after it.

Two weeks ago, Meyers was laid off because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A year later, he and so many others are still struggling.

"I really appreciate life itself right now," he said.

On the anniversary of the explosion, the community is still remembering the greatest tragedy -- the two lives lost: Kaffeinate coffee shop owner Kong Lee and PSNC worker Jay Rambeaut, a first responder rushing to the scene to help shut off the gas.

You can still support the victims here.

Richard Meyers also set up a GoFundMe page.
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