Small Town News

Disaster and Accident

Elevator Explosion Claims 3, Injures 4

The Marion Record of Marion, South Dakota

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Three Marion men died and four others were injured in an explosion and fire which caused extensive damage to the seven-year-old Farmers Co-op Assn. grain elevator here Saturday night. The explosion came at about 6:10 p. m. and was felt in an area several miles in diameter around Marion.

Dead as a result of the blast and subsequent fire are: Delbert Dick, 59, rural Marion, who was unloading grain at the time; Roger Schultz, 31, a part-time employee at the elevator, whose body was recovered from the debris at about 2:30 Sunday morning, and Keith Schoenwald, 28, assistant manager of the elevator, who died of his injuries in Sioux Valley Hospital at about 7:00 a. m. Sunday.

Those injured were: Dennis Herlyn, who was trapped under a cement slab for over three hours before rescue workers could free him, remains in intensive care at Sioux Valley Hospital. Both of his legs were broken below the knees and his right foot had to be amputated just above the ankle bone. He also sustained puncture wounds in his back and arm, second degree burns on his hands and superficial burns on his face. His condition is serious but stable.

Curt Engbrecht was in stable condition at McKennan Hospital with burns over much of the upper portion of his body.

Lor is Becker, in the Freeman hospital, was in stable condition with second degree burns and cuts on his face and hands.

Ronald DeHoogh was treated at McKennan and released Saturday night.

All of the injured were in the elevator office at the time of the explosion.

An estimated 20 grain-hauling units were in line waiting to be unloaded at the elevator at the time of the explosion which ripped a north section of the cement silo-type structure from top to bottom and collapsed the roof of the office structure. One description of the sound of the explosion was "a roll of thunder followed by a sonic boom" and that followed by a ball of fire visible for several miles from town.

Marion Fire Chief, Irvin Jeno, said that firemen responded to the explosion immediately, even though the fire siren was rendered useless by the impact. Their first effort was excavation of people from the debris and then the extinguishing of fires which took about 45 minutes.

Jeno had placed a call to the State Radio at Parker for emergency equipment and that call was answered by fire departments and ambulances from Parker, Monroe, Hurley, Viborg, Chancellor, Centerville, Freeman, Lennox and Canton. The fire chief was generous in his praise of all firemen and volunteers for their untiring efforts under hazardous conditions. Local firemen were on the scene until midnight Sunday, putting out small fires as late as Sunday evening.

Turner County Sheriff Paul Morehouse and deputies, as well as several S. D. Highway Patrol units, arrived in town shortly to assist Police Chief Bob Schlenker in directing rescue efforts, traffic control, etc. All but emergency traffic was detoured around the business district Saturday night and curiosity seekers were discouraged from entering town at all.

Cooperative general manager, Jim Best, had left work at 4:00 p. m. Saturday to help celebrate his son's 10th birthday in Sioux Falls. His first knowledge of the tragedy came as they were returning home at about 9:30 p. m. when he was stopped by the Highway Patrol south of town and questioned as to his purpose for coming to Marion. After being permitted to proceed, Jim noticed the red warning light on top of the elevator was missing. He stopped a second trooper and asked what was going on and it was then he learned the awful truth.

Jim and his employees of the cooperative held a brief prayer service Monday morning in memory of the dead and the bereaved and asking for the strength and wisdom to pick up the pieces and carry on.

The curious came to Marion from near and far Sunday and Monday to view the aftermath. Calls came from coast to coast as relatives heard the news on national media and were prompted to inquire as to the safety of loved ones here.

The community mourns the death of three of our residents and the injury of four others. The shock and grief are not unlike that which accompanied the 1949 Palm Sunday explosion which destroyed St. Mary's Catholic Church, killing six and injuring nearly 60. (See more pictures of the explosion on page five of this issue)

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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