Duckels may be charged for blast

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— A local construction company owner may face criminal charges for an errant dynamite blast at a construction site that propelled debris onto neighboring homes and also hit a young girl in the head.

On Friday, Routt County Sheriff John Warner recommended to the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office that Fred Duckels be charged with fourth-degree arson for Wednesday's incident within the Silver Spur Subdivision.

"It is a recommendation only," Warner said. "The DA's office will decide if charges are filed."

The blast took place at midday on May 1, as crews were working on a new sewer line.

Warner has also ordered that Duckels cease from conducting any additional dynamite blasts at the subdivision west of Steamboat Springs as the state Department of Labor reviews the incident.

"I have asked him to discontinue any blasting until we conduct a thorough investigation," Warner said. "He is not to do any blasting until he hears from me."

Warner said he is recommending the criminal charge based on evidence the investigation his office started Wednesday evening has revealed so far.

Duckels, who owns Duckels Construction, set off a dynamite blast at about noon that damaged a handful of homes in the 27000 block of Moonlight Way.

Flying debris also hit a 6-year-old girl in the head. The girl, who was playing with her twin sister in the front yard of a home on the street, suffered minor injuries that did not require medical attention.

Pieces of shale and dirt clumps were sent flying onto nearby homes on the north end of Steamboat II as Duckels was blasting shale rock in the ground to install water and sewer pipes within the subdivision.

Why debris was sent flying onto the neighboring homes is not known at this time, Warner said.

Warner said Duckels set and detonated the dynamite, which was placed along a "125-foot blast line."

Along that length, 1,500 pounds of explosives were set in holes drilled four feet apart into the shale, Warner said.

"How much explosives were put in each hole is not known at this point," Warner said. "We are still working on that."

Duckels has characterized the incident as a "mistake."

Warner said flying debris caused damage to six homes, two vehicles and two sheds on Moonlight Way. The road is adjacent to the land the firm is preparing for the development of the third phase of the subdivision. The backyards of the homes abut the property.

Warner said a charge of fourth-degree arson fits the evidence the investigation has revealed so far.

According to state statutes, a person could be charged with the crime if a person knowingly or recklessly causes an explosion on his own property or that of another, and by doing so places another in danger or places any building or occupied structure in danger.

Fourth-degree arson is a class four felony if a person is endangered. The charge is a misdemeanor if it involves property.

After the blast, workers removed debris from the neighboring homes. Windows, fences, roofs and driveways were reported damaged by residents.

Duckels did not alert authorities about the blast and also let some homeowners wonder what happened when they arrived home later in the evening. Warner's office was called to the scene after a resident reported a hole in his roof.

"It is unfortunate," Warner said. "Things could have been handled a lot better" by Duckels.

Warner also said the incident is being reviewed by the Department of Labor, which is the agency that issues licenses for explosives.

If the agency determines Duckels committed a violation, it could take action against Duckels, he said.

An apologetic Duckels said his firm's insurance company will be working with residents who had property damaged.

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