Family’s story of hope, love and loss in sugar refinery explosion

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Imperial Sugar refinery explosion impacted the lives of many in 2008.

For Carrie and John Sr. Butler, it’s a day they will never forget. They had not one, but three loved ones in the plant that evening.

Carrie got a call from her daughter in law saying that John Jr. was hurt.

“(She told me) he just said I love you and the phone just went dead,” she explained.

John wasn’t alone in the Imperial Sugar plant that day — he was with Jamie Butler, his brother.

“I saw a big blast and then I saw the fire coming towards me,” Jamie Butler told News 3 in 2009. “Next thing I know I hit the ground, blast got me down. I got back up, there was another explosion, so I got back down. “

Jamie and John were able to find an exit, but they had to go through flames to get out.

That’s when their parents rushed to the hospital to be with them. Carrie remembers seeing ambulance after ambulance, lined up like train cars.

“I knew then that something terrible had happened. Very terrible,” Carrie said. “Something really went wrong.”

Jamie was burned beyond recognition and doctors had to find a different way to identify him.

“Check his pockets,” John Senior remembers telling hospital staff. “You will find some wadded up dollar bills. You’d find them in his pocket. That’s when we found out it was Jamie.” 

John Butler

The Augusta Burn Center their only hope. Jamie was put in a medically induced coma for three months to combat burns over almost half of his body.

But John didn’t make it. “It’s a hurt and a pain that doesn’t ever go away,” said John Sr.

Jamie woke up in May of 2008 with his mother and father by his side.

“He was talking and I was talking,” smiles Carrie. “I don’t think I gave him a chance to say five words. It was just a Blessing to have my child look up at me, and talking.”

Jamie went home to his kids and his family, but his body and life were changed forever.

As John Sr. says, it’s a day that still haunts him even 10 years later.

“Some days it makes you want to say I’ll quit doing this or quit doing that, but we press forward,” explains John Sr.

After a decade, Jamie is still recovering. His parents are still dealing with loss, but will never up hope for a brighter future.

“The only thing I want to see him is happy,” says Carrie. “I want to see him happy and enjoy life. Because God kept him for a reason.”

Alphonso Fields

For anyone dealing with injuries or a difficult time like this, the Butler’s have a simple message.

“It’s going to take a lot of patience and a lot of love to get through it.”

Carrie Butler also lost her nephew Alphonso Fields in the explosion.

John Butler Junior left behind a wife and six children.

We asked to talk to Jamie Butler again, but he said it’s too difficult to look back on that day. He still cannot work because of his injuries.

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