Blast investigation continues in Rio Blanco

Cause of ignition from deadly explosion expected shortly from investigators


Randi Cruson hasn't returned to the remote site where two of her friends died Saturday night when an oil storage tank exploded in the Routt National Forest.

"It was the worst thing any of us could experience," said Cruson, 25, who was one of 16 teens and adults partying at a well site Saturday night near Chapman Reservoir in northeast Rio Blanco County.

Investigators say Sam Hedemark, 17, of Phippsburg and Christopher King Fuller, 19, of Yampa were jumping on top of a 20-foot-tall oil storage tank when it exploded at about 10:15 p.m. The bodies of the two teens were found more than 150 feet away, investigators said.

"I moved here eight years ago from Denver and it was a complete shock to me that kids party out in the woods," she said. "I did that for eight years now, but that's the first time I've seen a party there. The road goes a little further back. When we got there, we were like, 'What the hell are you guys doing with a bonfire so close to an oil tank?'"

Rio Blanco County Undersherriff Michael Joos said Tuesday that investigators could determine the ignition source as soon as today. He noted that several possibilities for the blast are being probed. Joos said one of the victims was found with cigarettes, marijuana and a lighter. A bonfire also was burning about 30 feet from the oil tank.

"The (Colorado Bureau of Investigation) is taking part in the interview process and there are still a couple teenagers left to talk to," said Joos, who noted the well site, which is about seven miles from the Routt County border, is too remote for his department to patrol.

"My investigator is also talking with the investigator for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission who was called out there," he said.

Tricia Beaver, the commission's spokeswoman, said an engineer who visited the site reported the well appeared to be in compliance with commission rules.

"It didn't appear anything was inappropriate," she said. "It seems to be an unfortunate location to be smoking and drinking and not thinking about the flammability of the oil tank."

Beaver said the commission's investigator confirmed the owners of the well are Bill Rippy and Cary Stehle of Craig. Rippy was unavailable for comment Tuesday night. No phone number was listed for Cary Stehle.

Joos said witness statements indicate that Hedemark and Fuller were jumping up and down on the oil storage tank prior to the explosion. The tank, which was half-full with about 160 barrels of oil, had a release valve on the top that allows vapors to escape when the pressure builds up. Joos said when Hedemark and Fuller jumped on the tank, it could have increased the amount of vapor escaping the release valve.

Cruson said many of the partygoers were jumping on the tank, but all had climbed down except Hedemark and Fuller before the tank exploded.

Joos said finding out who supplied alcohol to the minors is part of the interview process, but he noted that information gathered through the investigation would not be released until the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office reviews the case. Officials with the District Attorney's Office toured the accident site Monday and won't decide on charges until the investigation is complete.


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