One of Mercer’s two student trolleys inexplicably burst into flames early Friday morning just moments after dropping off its last load of passengers at Greek Village.
The driver of the iconic “Miss Molly” trolley was traveling north on Stadium Drive near the University Center around 3:30 a.m. when he noticed smoke coming from the vehicle’s rear engine. He immediately pulled over and called 911, but the flames had spread too quickly for the trolley to be salvaged.
No students were injured in the incident, and the driver escaped from the smoldering vehicle unscathed.
Chief Gary Collins with the Mercer Police department said officers arrived at the scene within five minutes to find Miss Molly almost totally destroyed.
“Miss Molly didn’t make it out alive. When we got there, the trolley was smoking and you could still see some flames. What damage the fire didn’t do, the smoke and water did,” Collins said. “It was awful.”
NewTown Macon owns and operates the trolley service through a contract with the University.
NewTown spokesman Hal Baskin said it appears the fire started in the trolley’s rear engine, but the exact cause of the incident won’t be determined until insurance inspectors can conduct a full investigation next week.
Baskin said he does not believe the fire was caused by a manufacturer’s defect, or that students should have any reason to be fearful of using the trolley service in the future.
“I would expect that this is an isolated incident and not a problematic issue that affects all trolleys . . it was just something that happened,” Baskin said.
Investigators do not suspect foul play was involved in the incident.
NewTown has already begun making plans to replace Miss Molly with a new trolley.
“We’re looking at what other equipment is available to replace Miss Molly, and we’re just waiting to hear back from our insurance inspectors at this point,” Baskin said.
NewTown will continue to provide service in the meantime using its other trolley, “Sweet Melissa,” which is the same model trolley as Miss Molly. Baskin said Sweet Melissa was undergoing precautionary safety inspections on Tuesday to ensure that it is safe to operate.
The student trolley service to downtown should continue as scheduled this week, with Sweet Melissa shifted into full rotation for the time being, Chief Collins said.
“I’m just so grateful that no one was hurt. It could have been worse. I don’t think there’s any reason to worry, though. These sorts of things happen from time to time,” Collins said.
Collins added that he hopes the incident will remind students to remain vigilant and orderly while using the trolley service.
Dean of students Doug Pearson told The Cluster Tuesday afternoon that he’s not sure yet if the incident will have any significant impact on student trolley services in the future.
“It’s possible that because there’s only one trolley for now that there could be minor disruptions in service in the coming weeks. Obviously, we’ll notify students of any schedule changes via email and Bear Blurbs as soon as they happen,” Pearson said.
Miss Molly was purchased by the Macon Transit Authority in 2001 at a price tag of $127,000, then later sold to NewTown Macon for $160,000 in 2004. It had an estimated capacity of 40 people, and had been used in recent years to to give daytime tours of local historic sites as well as transport students to downtown Macon at night.
The trolley was named after Macon-born musician Little Richard’s 1958 hit song, “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
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To contact writer Carl V. Lewis, email [email protected]