Burnell Gilleland died attempting to save Walter H. McMeans from suffocation, Haskell, Texas, August 3, 1997. McMeans, 23, was helping his grandfather, Gilleland, 70, farmer, to remove a pump from a water well on Gilleland’s property when he lost consciousness inside the well. Unknown by the family, the well’s atmosphere was contaminated by a gas. Gilleland immediately climbed into the well to try to remove McMeans, but he too lost consciousness. Other family members who were present left to summon help. Rescue workers arrived and, using safety equipment, removed Gilleland and McMeans from the well, but neither man could be revived.72128-8319
A whole city was stunned and saddened this week by the tragic accident striking one of its families. Haskell farmer, Burnell Gilleland, age 70, and his grandson, Heath McMeans, age 23, a Correctional Officer from Lubbock, were both pronounced dead by Haskell County Justice of the Peace, Gina Brown, Sunday night when they failed to respond to resuscitation efforts. Both men had succumbed to toxic gas fumes inside the water well they were repairing. On the scene after responding quickly to the 911 call were Haskell County Sheriff Johnny Mills, Haskell Volunteer Fire Department, Haskell EMS< Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Warden, Steve Barbour, and representatives from the Haskell City Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety. First to arrive, City Police Officer Roman Morgan was briefly hospitalized after attempting to rescue the men by climbing into the well. Wearing protective breathing apparatus, volunteer firemen then went into the well to retrieve the bodies. Representatives of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission were in Haskell Monday testing the well site for the type and source of the deadly gas. County Sheriff Mills told the Free Press that preliminary unofficial findings indicate both methane and propane gas in the well. Later reports from the TNRCC confirmed a possible leak in a propane line in the area. Mary Lou Gilleland survives her husband Burnell. Sheila McMeans and Max McMeans of Haskell are parents of Heath McMeans. A joint funeral service was held Tuesday at the Haskell Church of Christ for the grandfather and grandson who enjoyed working together as best friends. Burnell was born October 25, 1926, in Stamford, Texas, and was the son of Tom Ollie and Lorene Medford Gilleland. He served In the Merchant Marine during World War II and married Mary Lou Webb on June 21, 1947 in Haskell. He had been a lifelong farmer in Haskell County and served on the ASCS County Committee, the Soil Conservation Board and the Gin Board. He was a charter director of the First National Bank in Haskell. He was a member of the Church of Christ where he served as deacon and was serving as elder.
From the Haskell (Texas) Free Press, Aug. 7, 1997.