Suspect says former refinery a hazard

A Clifton man was in jail Monday after calling the FBI and telling them he planned to commit suicide by blowing up the former Fruita Refinery.

According to an arrest affidavit, Michael Leroy Schonlau, 36, 3286 E Road, called an FBI agent saying he had explosives on him and near him that were linked to a 200-million-gallon propane tank.

He also warned about the presence of H2S gas, or hydrogen sulfide gas, in the air that could ignite.

Schonlau told the agent that anyone who crossed over the railroad tracks in the area of the former refinery at 1493 U.S. Highway 6&50 would be a “trigger” for him, the affidavit said.

Law enforcement closed the area between 14 Road and 16 Road on U.S. Highway 6&50 for a few hours Sunday night before Schonlau was taken into custody.

Schonlau left two propane tanks at the site, and a gun was found underneath his driver’s side seat in his vehicle, the affidavit said.

Mesa County Judge Craig Henderson during Schonlau’s first appearance Monday said he did not see probable cause in the affidavit for the most serious charge the defendant faced, possession or use of an explosive device, a class 5 felony.

Henderson also said in court that Henderson needed a mental health evaluation and handed him a $10,000 bond.

“The allegations are serious,” Henderson said. “He is perhaps a danger to himself or others.”

Schonlau also faces charges of false reporting of explosives, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, both felonies; and three misdemeanor counts of obstructing government operations, obstructing a highway and false reporting to authorities.

Schonlau during his court appearance told Henderson he and four others who had been hospitalized had been exposed to the gas and he had been trying in vain to report the hazards to government officials and agencies.

Schonlau also told the FBI agent he was the only person around Sunday night and that he didn’t want to hurt anyone else, he just wanted to help, the affidavit said.

“Michael stated he was attempting to tell everyone the hazards of the refinery, and this was the only way he could get the message out,” Schonlau told officers, according to the affidavit.

According to a 2010 report by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Fruita Refinery, a former petroleum refinery, closed in 1993 after 40 years in operation. The area was cleaned up by the site’s new owners and with the help of Mesa County, Fruita and the state of Colorado.

Its environmental issues included hazardous waste storage, solvent waste storage, acid sludge ponds and lead waste, the agency said in the report.

The site was developed into an area called the Greenway Business Park.


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