Merna Sneed, second victim in East Campus house explosion, dies

Friday, April 4, 2008 | 8:43 a.m. CDT; updated 2:10 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Merna Sneed, who was injured in a house explosion March 14, died in the burn unit of University Hospital on Thursday morning, Columbia fire officials announced Friday.

The explosion at 308 McNab Drive was caused by natural gas. Her husband, Carl Sneed, 87, was killed in the explosion and ensuing fire. Merna Sneed, 85, had been hospitalized with critical injuries and burns over 30 percent of her body.

Carl Stacy of the Boone County medical examiner’s office said Merna Sneed died of complications from the injuries she sustained after being blown out of her home in the blast. The medical examiner’s office performed an autopsy Thursday, Stacy said.

In an e-mail to the Missourian on Friday morning, one of the Sneeds’ three daughters, Pam Heath, wrote that she was sorry that her mother’s injury “was (too) severe to overcome.”

Dan Kelly, Merna Sneed’s son-in-law, said there will be a joint memorial service for Carl and Merna Sneed at 6 p.m. April 12 in the Great Room of the Reynolds Alumni Center.

Another of the Sneeds’ three daughters, Penny Sneed, said she and her husband, Kelly, left Columbia on Sunday for their home in California. They were making plans for the long-term care of Merna Sneed, who just three weeks earlier had been given about a 25 percent chance of survival.

Things looked as if they could turn around.

“There was a measure of hope until (early) Thursday morning; there was always hope,” Kelly said. “There are people who survive with these kinds of injuries. It takes a lot of skill and a lot of hope and some luck.”

During her hospitalization, Merna Sneed would sometimes make eye contact with visiting family members and smile, despite not being able to talk, Kelly said.

“My son was there, visiting last weekend,” Kelly said of Kieran Kelly-Sneed, 28. “In the rubble (of the house) he saw a little red wagon, all red and rusted, that Carl used to put him on.”

Kelly told Merna Sneed about the discovery, and he said he could still detect a reaction despite her injuries. The suggestion of a smile still broke through, he said.

“It’s really hard to conceive of,” Kelly said. “She had breathing tubes and she couldn’t talk. She was on a ventilator. She was unconscious most of the time and barely conscious when she was awake.”

Another time, Kelly said, Merna Sneed’s sense of humor was evident during the first few days she was in the hospital.

“I was telling her about the article, in the paper, the first or second article in the paper that said a woman in her 50s or 60s was taken to the hospital,” Kelly said of early reports of Merna Sneed’s age. He said the mistake prompted a smile.

Kelly, who is a pediatrician in private practice, said the care his mother-in-law received and the support that the family got from the hospital’s staff and the families of other patients was astounding.

He singled out University Hospital doctor Nicholas Meyer of the burn unit. Kelly said he and all of the special care unit’s staff “are just top, top, top. It’s a great unit.”

Merna Sneed’s friends at the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia remembered her passion for the literary. She discussed books regularly as a member of the Fortnightly Club’s book group.

“She would give wonderful book reviews to our group, and without any notes she could just speak and review the book in such an interesting manner,” said Fran Rikli of Columbia, also a member of the Fortnightly Club.

An early riser, Merna Sneed volunteered more than 16 hours a week at the Columbia Public Library since 1975, sorting books for sale early in the morning. Her passion for literature was infectious, and her husband, Carl, and daughter, Linda Sneed, also donated time to the library.

“It’s really a family affair for them; they are just huge supporters of the library,” said Melissa Carr, the library’s director.

Merna Sneed was born on March 26, 1923. She married Carl Sneed of Columbia and had three daughters, Linda Sneed of Columbia, Penny Sneed of San Francisco and Pam Heath of Alameda, Calif.

Merna Sneed was a retired professor of home economics at MU. She shared an interest in sewing with her husband, a retired professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at MU.

Missourian reporter Isabelle Roughol contributed to this story.

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