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Spark Ignited Powder in Civil War-Era Shell

A Civil War relic hunter who was killed in an explosion in February had been cleaning a cannonball when a spark ignited black powder, a federal investigation concluded yesterday.

Sam White, 53, was working on the nine-inch naval cannonball in the driveway of his home with a wire-brush grinder, which ignited the internal powder, exploding the shell, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said. No other injuries were reported in the Feb. 18 explosion.

A four-inch piece of shrapnel dug from the driveway's asphalt contained evidence that the shell had been made inert, either by White or the person who sold him the shell, said Bill Dunham, resident agent in charge of the Richmond ATF office.

The explosion sent a one- to two-pound section of the shell hurtling from the Chester subdivision where White lived and through the roof of a house a quarter-mile away.

White, a respected, widely known member of the Civil War relic hunting community, was using the grinder to clean residue from the shell, which dated to the 1850s or 1860s.

-- Associated Press

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