CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - An off-duty Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police SWAT officer has died after a police device exploded at his Mint Hill home.
Police say Officer Fred Thornton was doing a safety check on his equipment late Friday afternoon when the explosion happened. He had just returned home from a SWAT mission earlier in the afternoon.
"At first thought it was a truck backfiring maybe coming down the street," neighbor C.R. Braniff said of the explosion. "It was really loud -- irregularly loud."
Emergency crews were called to the Thornton's home on Tinkerton Court Friday evening around 5:35 p.m.
Upon arrival, EMS workers treated officer Thornton for life threatening injuries caused by the explosion. He was transported to Carolinas Medical Center-Main by police escort.
Police say doctors made a heroic effort to save Thornton's life, but the injuries were too severe.
Police say the device that exploded is called a flash-bang. The SWAT team sometimes uses flash-bangs when entering a building. It is called a "distraction" device and makes a bright flash and a loud bang.
According to CMPD, Officer Thornton has been with the department for more than 28 years and was assigned to the North Tryon Division. He has been a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team for 23 years.
He was the longest serving member in the SWAT team's history.
Thornton is survived by his wife and four kids -- two boys and two girls. The youngest is 13.
"It's just one more example of the work that we expect of our people and the risk that they're involved in each and every day, and it's a risk that all too often costs our members their lives," said an emotional Chief Monroe at a press conference at police headquarters late Friday night.
An investigation into the accident is being conducted by the Mint Hill Police Department with the assistance of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.
Neighbor Nelson Smith calls Thornton a "kindhearted fellow" who would help him with outdoor chores.
On Saturday, police and medic units escorted Thornton's body to a local funeral home.
At a CMPD family day event a memorial was set up honoring him and outside the Law Enforcement Center at the police memorial people left flowers.
The visitation for Officer Thornton will be held Monday, February 28, 2011 , from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at First Baptist Church Charlotte, 301 South Davidson Street, Charlotte, N.C. 28231.
The funeral will be held Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 11:00, also at First Baptist Church Charlotte.
Burial will follow the funeral at Sharon Memorial Park, 5716 Monroe Road, Charlotte , N.C. 28212.