Settlements reached in fatal lodge blast

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Crews work in the wreckage of Electric Mountain Lodge near Paonia, which was leveled by an explosion in March 2005 that killed three children and injured 16 people. Victims and relatives agreed to settle a lawsuit naming two dozen defendants just as the trial was beginning last month.

A wrongful death lawsuit brought four years ago related to the explosion that killed three people and injured 16 at a remote lodge near Paonia has ended with settlements.

Scheduled for trial over seven weeks starting Oct. 18 before Mesa County Chief Judge David Bottger, claims against Electric Mountain Lodge LLC, AmeriGas Propane Inc. and Ferrellgas Inc., among the two dozen defendants in the case, were dismissed after 14 victims or relatives of victims agreed to settle on Oct. 21.

Financial terms of the settlements are not among public filings in the lawsuit, and the Grand Junction attorney representing the victims said confidentiality agreements are in place.

“Since there are minor children involved, (Bottger) still has to approve the settlements,” attorney Keith Killian said, adding the deal was struck Oct. 18 as jury selection had begun in Bottger’s courtroom. Roughly 80 depositions were taken since the lawsuit was filed in 2006, he said.

“We were ready to go,” Killian said. “There were witnesses set for 30 days of trial.”

Killian had represented five children and nine adults, including the parents of Michael Watkins, 2, Leslie Ann Bilbrey, 12, and Jamie Marie Reade, 16, who were killed in the explosion.

Situated in Gunnison National Forest, Electric Mountain Lodge was leveled by a propane explosion on the afternoon of March 19, 2005. The three children who died were among a group of eight kids who were watching movies in a bedroom inside the lodge at the time of the explosion, the lawsuit alleged.

A resulting fire burned with an intensity that left only fragments of teeth and bone from the three victims, the lawsuit alleged.

Among a series of claims, the lawsuit said owners of the property hadn’t properly maintained propane lines to the lodge and failed to install warning systems to alert for leaks. The lawsuit also claimed the brand of propane feeding the property wasn’t “easily discernible” by smell.

A criminal investigation by the Delta County Sheriff’s Department yielded no charges.

The lodge was rebuilt and opened again in the spring of 2008.


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