APRIL 19, 1977

An explosion ripped through one room of the Lewiston Omark Industries chemistry department early Tuesday killing Richard A. Chase, 34, of 1515 19th Ave., Lewiston.  The plant is producing despite a strike that began March 23.

William G. Pryor, president of the Lewiston ammunition manufacturing plant, said Tuesday that Chase, an Omark employee for 14 years, was the only person in the room when the explosion occurred and was the only person injured.  Nez Perce County sheriff’s deputies said Chase was sampling lead styphnate, which is used in ammunition primers, at 6:53 a.m. when some of the chemical exploded.  Chase was thrown backwards about four feet through a closed door.  His face, chest, and hands were burned and mangled by the blast, deputies said.

He died before the Omark ambulance arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital.  Nez Perce County Coroner Donald J. Appleford said an autopsy completed Tuesday night showed that Chase died of multiple injuries with severe brain and lung damage caused by the force of the explosion.

Chase’s working surface was a 50-inch-square moat table, made of quarter inch stainless steel.  Part of the table was shredded by the explosion, deputies said.  Windows in the room were blown out.  The roof over the extreme southeast corner of the Omark building complex was lifted off by the blast, deputies said.  The windows are designed to come out and the roof to lift off during an explosion to decrease the pressure in the room, as a safety factor.  The 20-foot square room Chase was working in was immediately cleared of all equipment and sprayed with water to prevent another explosion, deputies said.

Pryor explained that lead styphnate is not dangerous unless it is dry.  The room and fixtures were kept wet to prevent any of the chemical spread by the explosion from drying.  No cause of the blast was determined, Pryor said.  Inspectors from the state labor department, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the company, and sheriff’s office will continue the investigation, he said.

Chase was a foreman in the chemistry laboratory sampling room, Pryor said.  He had worked there for 14 years and was one of  the most experienced  men in the department.

In the sampling room the lead styphnate is prepared for testing to determine how explosive it is,  Omark employees said Tuesday.  The preparation involves pouring some of the water off of bowls of the explosive, they said.  James Ward, the company’s safety inspector, had been in the room minutes before the explosion, Pryor said.  Ward heard the explosion and returned to the room, he said.  Ward determined that another explosion was not likely, Pryor added, so no evacuation of the plant was called.  Deputies said Tuesday they have no reason to believe that any foul play was involved in the explosion.  The explosion and death added more tension to a month-old strike at the ammunition manufacturing plant where Chase was working.

Representatives of three labor unions that have attempted to draft the first labor contract ever for Omark employees pledged Tuesday afternoon to “push this safety thing”.  In a written statement, local representatives of Teamsters union said “one of the major concerns has been the safety of working employees”.  The unions asserted disregard of employee safety by Omark.  The statement also asked for an immediate investigation of the accident and also all other potential accident areas in the use of inexperienced help at Omark CCI.

Chase was born Jan. 20, 1943 at Cathamet, Wash. to Leonard and Alice Chase.  He moved to Orofino a year later and to Lewiston in 1951.  He graduated from Lewiston High School in 1961.  He lived in Lewiston since then.  He married Joan Shubert at Lewiston April 20, 1963.  Mrs. Chase works as the night nursing supervisor at St. Joseph’s Hospital.  He was a member of the Idaho Army National Guard from 1960 to 1968.  He was an antique automobile buff and member of the Crankers Club.

He is survived by his wife, their children, Cheri Lynn and Leonard Alan, all at the family home; his mother, of Lewiston, a brother, Charles Chase of Medford, Ore., and grandfather, Orvil Chase of Kamiah.

Funeral services will  be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church with Father Roger LaChance officiating.  Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Vassar-Rawls Funeral Home.  Burial will be at the Normal Hill Cemetery.

The family asked that any memorial donations be made to the St. Joseph’s Hospital Growth and Development Fund.