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6 prisoners die as van catches fire on Tennessee highway

April 3, 1997

DICKSON, Tenn. (AP) _ A van transporting prisoners burst into flame on a highway today, killing all six of them as the driver tried vainly to save the chained and shackled men, authorities said.

The driver was burned on his arms and was taken to a Nashville hospital for treatment.

Earlier reports that a seventh inmate survived the fire were incorrect, said Safety Department spokesman Anthony Kimbrough. ``There were six inmates and they all died,″ he said. A guard assisting the driver was unhurt.

Kimbrough said the fire apparently was started by a broken drive shaft that pierced the vehicle’s fuel tank. Emergency officials said the problem may have been a broken axle rather than the drive shaft.

No other vehicles were involved, Ms. Armour said. The charred gray van came to rest on the median of Interstate 40, about 45 miles west of Nashville. Its windows were blown out and glass was scattered on the highway.

``The prisoners were consumed in the fire,″ said Lt. Mike Dover of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. He said the prisoners were chained and shackled to each other but not to the vehicle.

``The metal burned so hot that it welded the back door shut,″ Dover said.

He said the van left Memphis this morning; officials were not sure where it was heading. State officials initially said the prisoners were federal inmates but later confirmed they were state prisoners.

The van was owned by Federal Extradition Agency, a private company that transports inmates under contract. A man answering the phone at the company’s Memphis office confirmed the van was his company’s but would make no further comment.

The van was so badly burned that the company’s name and license plates could not be read.

Identities were not available.

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