Three of the victims killed in the Waukegan manufacturing plant blast have been identified by authorities as crews continue to search for the last victim in the rubble.
Jeff Cummings, 57, of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Byron H. Biehn, 53, of Brighton Township, Wisconsin, and Allen E. Stevens Jr., 29, of Salem, Wisconsin, were identified as the three victims who died in last Friday evening’s explosion at AB Speciality Silicones in Waukegan.
Nine people were working in the building at the time of the explosion.
Cummings, who was a supervisor at the plant, noticed a problem just before the blast and reportedly helped evacuate employees. He went back inside the building to look for remaining employees when the explosion occurred.
Stevens had been transported by ambulance to an area hospital and later transferred to the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood where he died on Saturday.
Search crews found Cummings’ body in the rubble Saturday morning and then found Biehn’s body in the rubble Sunday afternoon. Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper said that one other victim remains missing.
“This is truly an awful tragedy of epic proportion. We continue to work on scene, in efforts to recover the final victim. Our condolences also go out to the entire AB Specialty Silicones family,” Cooper said.
Of the nine employees, three are confirmed dead, three suffered injuries, two of them escaped without injury and one remains missing.
The explosion occurred at 9:30 p.m. Friday at AB Speciality Silicones, 3790 Sunset Avenue in Waukegan. A portion of the factory was leveled and heavily involved in fire.
Residents throughout Lake County reported feeling and hearing the explosion and some even felt it from more than 15 miles away.
Debris from the explosion covered Sunset Avenue near Northwestern Avenue as dozens of fire crews from throughout Lake County and Cook County responded to the scene Friday evening.
Over 100 firefighters responded to the blast from at least 30 different fire departments, Waukegan Fire Marshal Steve Lenzi said. Heavy-duty equipment was called to help remove debris while crews searched for the missing workers.
AB Speciality Silicones is a manufacturing and distribution company that specializes in producing raw silicone products. The explosion damaged at least five other buildings in the area and damage is estimated to be in excess of $1 million, Lenzi said.
In a statement released by the company’s general manager Mac Penman, he said, “We are shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy that occurred in our plant on May 3rd. We are trying our best to support all of the members of our AB family as we attempt to process this terrible loss together.”
“We want to express our extreme gratitude to all of the first responders who arrived at the scene,” Penman added.
Representatives from the Illinois EPA, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Lake County Emergency Management Agency were also called to the scene.
The cause of the fire, which has been deemed accidental, remains under investigation. Lenzi said that there were no injuries to any emergency personnel.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of all involved in this horrific incident. Our personnel worked tirelessly through the night to control this scene with help from many neighboring agencies. This was a very large scale team effort,” Lenzi said.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and the Waukegan Fire Department continue to investigate the explosion.