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Blast victims' fundraiser to be big event
Kelly Fields - photo by Photo submitted

Organizers for a fundraiser to aid victims and families of the Feb. 7 Imperial Sugar refinery explosion said the event is getting a lot of attention.

“They’re going really well,” said Melissa Reagan, one of the organizers behind Saturday’s event at Kelly’s Tavern in Springfield. “We’ve got a lot of money in the bank.”

Family representatives of the four victims, Paul Seckinger, Justin Purnell, Troy Bacon and Kelly Fields, are expected to attend.

But the fundraiser isn’t near its goal to help the four Effingham victims. The committee for the Effingham County Imperial Sugar Fundraiser has collected close to $15,000 in donations and Boston butt ticket sales and has more than 50 items for the silent auction. The items for the auction total over $50,000.

A raffle will be held Saturday, with four big-ticket items — a set of Milwaukee power tools valued at $500 donated by Effingham Hardware, an LCD flat-screen TV valued at $900 donated by Walt’s TV and Appliance, a bracelet donated by FireFlies valued at close to $500 and an automatic shotgun donated by Kelly’s Tavern — up for grabs.

Silent auction items include a pie safe, pallets of sod, Atlanta Braves tickets, a stay at the Desoto Hilton, family memberships to the Effingham YMCA, a Captain Judy’s fishing trip, a potting table and kitchen table from Wiley’s Home Center, a Vera Bradley garment bag, Detroit Tigers autographed baseballs, two 10-speed bikes, a Seckinger Sheila house, teeth whitening certificates, a week’s stay at an ocean-front condo in Myrtle Beach, a hammer drill kit, a wine cabinet and four sets of china donated by Noritake valued at $4,400.

Festivities will begin at 11 a.m. Local talent will perform throughout the day including singing performances, local disc jockey Greg Trowell and evening entertainment from Kim Calhoun, an original member of the Deep South Band.

Dusty Zeigler will sign autographs between 11 a.m.-2 p.m. He is also donating an autographed New York Giants 2008 Super Bowl football.

More than 35 items are for sale at the bake sale, raffle tickets will be sold throughout the day, and those who pre-purchased Boston butts will be able to pick them up from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Boston butts will be sold that day for those who didn’t get a chance to purchase one in the last two weeks.

Kelly’s Tavern will be open for business and is donating 50 percent of inside food sales to the fundraiser. One hundred percent of outside food sales, including a barbecue plate and hot dog sales, will be donated to the recovery effort.

A kids’ corner will be set up with face painting, slides, balloons and inflatables.

About the four Effingham men hurt in the sugar refinery explosion 

Kelly Fields, 40, Rincon
Kelly Fields died early Feb. 14, 2008, at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at the Doctors Hospital in Augusta, from injuries he received during the explosion at the Imperial Sugar Refinery in Port Wentworth. 

Family and friends were told that Fields was not hurt in the initial blast and had gotten out with his crew, but he went back into the plant to assist co-workers and was severely burned in a second explosion. He rescued at least two fellow co-workers, according to one family friend.

Fields had third and fourth degree burns over 80 percent of his body. The only part of his body not affected by burns were his feet.

“It probably never entered his mind that something else could happen, (when he re-entered the building) just that somebody needed help,” Abby Wilkerson, Fields’ cousin, said.

Fields grew up in Dalton and was a 1986 graduate of Northwest Whitfield High School. He excelled at track and for years held the school records for pole vault (13 feet), hurdles and high jump (6 feet, 6 inches).

Fields loved water skiing, according to his mother Sarah Fields. He had just found a lake near Rincon and called her because he had plans to ski with a group there, she said.

He also enjoyed snow skiing and his last trip down the slopes was in November while on his honeymoon with wife Betty. They were married the day after Thanksgiving and were starting a new life in Rincon with daughters Molly and Madison. 

Fields had an infectious smile and never met a stranger, his mother said.

“He could talk to someone in a three-piece suit or overalls and be their friend,” she said.

“Kelly was all about experiencing life and the fun that comes with it. His fun-loving personality made his nieces gravitate toward him more than anyone else,” Wilkerson said.

Scott Malone, a lifelong friend, said “Kelly did more living in his 40 years than most people would do in 80.”

During Fields’ year in Rincon, he spent a lot of time on Tybee Island, celebrating Fourth of July there, and calling his mother to let her listen to the crashing of the waves.

“God gave my children this year together and it will be hard for them and they will really miss Kelly. God gave me the year to get use to not having him so close because he knew just how hard this would be for me and how much I would miss my baby,” Sarah Fields said.
Justin Purnell, 23
Justin Purnell was working with Paul Seckinger on the night of Feb. 7 when the Imperial Sugar Refinery exploded. He received third degree burns to his body and was airlifted to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center that night.

According to his wife Jenny, Purnell is a very family oriented man, and loves to spend time with his 2-year-old son Hunter. On his days off, he loves to hunt and fish. 

Purnell grew up in Effingham County and chose to stay in Effingham to make his home with wife Jenny.

“He is a very funny person and he always has a joke for everyone,” she said.  “Justin is a very easy going, laid-back kind of person.”

The couple has been married for four years.

Paul Seckinger, 34, Springfield
Paul Seckinger is a mechanic at the Imperial Sugar refinery. He has just started his shift when the explosion happened. He suffered third degree burns to his body and is currently listed in critical condition at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center. Seckinger was one of the first to be airlifted from Memorial Health.

He is a life-long resident of Effingham County and worked at the plant with his father and brother.

Seckinger also loved to hunt and fish on the Savannah River on his days off, and often spent time with Purnell, as the two shared the hobby.

Seckinger is described by most of his friends as a fun-loving man who tells great jokes.

Another priority in Seckinger’s life is his 9-year-old daughter Morgan, who he loves to spend time with.

Morgan Seckinger is doing her own fundraising for her father. With the help of her homeroom teacher at Ebenezer Elementary School, Stacie Ortiz, Morgan will soon be collecting donations for Morgan’s Dixie Wish, a charm made especially for her by the Jibbitz corporation. Jibbitz specializes in making charms for Crocs shoes.

Ortiz said her and Morgan were making a poster for Paul Seckinger’s hospital room when the idea just came to her to call the Crocs shoe company to see if they wanted to help.

Jibbitz Corporation is sending 1,000 charms to Ortiz for Morgan to sell for a $5 donation.

It will be four weeks before the charms come in, but Ortiz plans to have a booth at the ECIS fundraiser to showcase the charms.

Troy Bacon, 46, Rincon
Troy Bacon was working on the third floor of the Imperial Sugar refinery when the explosion occurred. He suffered burns on his face, arms and legs, according to his mother.

Bacon graduated from Effingham County High School in the early 1980s and is listed in serious condition, according to his mother. He lives in Rincon with his sister. On his days off he also likes to hunt and fish.