Saturday, May 23, 2015

Owner and Injured Distiller Sue Still Maker Over Deadly Silver Trail Explosion

WPSD-TV, the NBC affiliate in Paducah, Kentucky, is reporting today that Silver Trail Distillery owner Spencer Balentine and Jay Rogers, one of the employees injured in the distillery accident on April 24, are jointly suing Oregon still maker Revenoor for damages.

The family of Kyle Rogers, 27, who died from injuries he received in the explosion, has not yet decided how they want to proceed.

On Thursday, Amanda Powell, Silver Trail Museum Manager, issued a public statement to other owners of Revenoor stills. "DO NOT operate until you have spoken with the Kentucky State Fire Marshal's office in Frankfort," she warned. "The model 300 gallon Revenoor used by Silver Trail failed massively, hurtling 50 feet and bending a 10' X 10' sliding steel door before landing in the gravel lot." Jay Rogers said the explosion was totally without warning and occurred four gallons into a normal run.

In her statement, Powell also made allegations about the Revenoor Company and its owner, Terry Wilhelm of Yamhill, Oregon. "The very day of the accident Mr. Wilhelm began placing Revenoor Stills into bankruptcy and pulled the website down according to the insurance investigation," she claimed.

In an interview with Mark Gillespie on Friday, Wilhelm denied Powell's assertions. “I started to pull the website and the phone number down on February 24th, not the day after the explosion," Wilhelm told Gillespie. "There hasn’t been anything done about a bankruptcy filing. I simply did it because there were some health and some personal family issues that were just getting to be too much along with the work with Revenoor. I simply wasn’t in a good mind to take any more orders."

An archived copy of the Revenoor web site can be seen here.

According to Gillespie, Wilhelm shut the business down because of a family dispute over ownership. Wilhelm told Gillespie that he has been locked out of the Revenoor shop on the family’s farm since February 23 with no access to the company’s equipment or records. Wilhelm also said that he has not been contacted by anyone associated with the Kentucky Fire Marshal and is willing to cooperate fully in the investigation.

A few days after the blast, Hawkins Teague reported in the Murray (Kentucky) Ledger & Times that Bill Compton, a deputy with the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s hazardous materials division, is overseeing the investigation. His office is working with Silver Trail’s insurance company to develop a theory of what exactly caused the equipment failure.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Compton said. “There was a catastrophic failure of the still, which caused the still to be catapulted through the building and into the gravel driveway of the facility. What exactly caused the still to over-pressurize and fail, at this point, we don’t know; it’s still under investigation.”

A final report is not expected for some time, Compton told Teague.

There have been a handful of accidents at American micro-distilleries in the last ten years, but no deaths or serious injuries until Silver Trail. The Kentucky Distiller's Association has established a support fund for Jay Rogers and the family of Kyle Rogers called 'Lifting Spirits.'


Chuck Cowdery said...

Comments are welcome, as always, but I will not post anonymous rumors or speculation about the causes of this tragedy.

Erik Fish said...

Chuck, I'm not quite sure where the boundaries are, so I won't be cross if you don't post this.

It doesn't require any rumors or speculation, but just a close reading of Revenoor's archived website to get a distinct sense of the "mouthfeel" of this business. Mr. Wilhelm keeps talking about the "fuel" and how easy it is to get the permit, and then keeps slipping in the hints about beverage alcohol (nudge nudge wink wink) without wasting time on the nasty legalities.
Since I live only about 10 miles from his place, one village over, I did a quick check for his local business footprint; there is none. Completely under the radar; everything must have gone through his website.
I can't help but remember the article in the latest Reader about how the new micro distillers have money and go after the best available equipment from Vendome and such. It appears that Silver Trail may not have gone that route, with unfortunate results.

Anonymous said...

I thought the idea was that silver trail gave the manufacture the plans of his great great grandpappies still. And asked them to replicate it.

Chuck Cowdery said...

To the person whose comments I keep rejecting, two things: (1) You are anonymous, (2) The information you claim has been reported in 'news articles' hasn't been in any I've seen. If you can cite to a source you might have a better chance of getting posted.

Anonymous said...

Chuck from the news articles and information I've read the still was running unattended, its stated in multiple news articles
They were going back in to check on a run. Going back in why did they leave?

Anyone jumping on a bandwagon to trash talk the still manufacture when it sounds like good safety measure were not in place for the operation of this still makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Beverage ethanol production is still ethanol production its not something where you add the heat, then step out to go do other things. I'd fire one of my assistant distillers if they stepped away from the still longer than it takes to use the restroom.

We'll see what comes from the fire marshal but if the still had been attended any problem could have been stopped well before an explosion event happen.

My condolence to the families that were harmed, but I believe the rush to blame someone has people closing their eyes to what seems like unsafe operating procedures.

-A Distiller

Chuck Cowdery said...

Although you have probably seen it multiple times because Reuter's is a news service, only Reuter's has reported that the still was running unattended. Silver Trails has denied it.

Anonymous said...

Was this still was heated via direct flame?


Anonymous said...

By that logic of Silver Trails denying that it was unattended and after reading their Facebook page about 'all safety procedures were followed' then shouldn't that still manufacture, saying in that phone interview, they delivered a complete properly functioning still also be enough?

In the world of public opinion that manufacture has become the scapegoat, an easy target to call the bad guy. A still is a relatively simple device and a fault in construction or design should only result in bad or non functioning equipment . Miss use, bad maintenance or improper safety procedures is more often than not the reason for accidents like these. Its not a popular opinion but it is my own very realist viewpoint of the information that has come to light so far.

Some will come along and say why didn't it have this or that safety device, what really needs to be asked is that if 'all safety procedures were followed' why didn't they have those installed after delivery?

-A Distiller

Anonymous said...

Chuck. How about this: go to their facebook page, and look at their copper box direct fired still, sitting inside a particle board building, on top of a wooden floor. But that's not the most absurd part. The most absurd is that if you look at the pic closely, you can see that the wooden floor and the sides of the still are already burned. This was back before the accident, and in fact it looks like they are proud of it ! That's the kind of terrible operation that gives our craft a bad name, and makes it hard for us to operate, because it gives the impression that most distilleries would operate in a foolish manner.

Kids, don't try that at home.

Another distiller

Chuck Cowdery said...

I don't want this to become trial by blog, so I'm still monitoring comments closely and will not post any comment I feel crosses the line. I also don't want to speak for the Silver Trail folks, who I do not know. There are no images of their facility on their web site, but there are on their Facebook page.

Mark Fleetwood said...

Do new stills get certified by the state and subsequently inspected each year like elevators are?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Historically, insurance companies require that. The state does not.

Anonymous said...

In most states the requirements for inspection of boilers , construction. storage, operations, etc. only apply to distillers in urban areas. You can build a shack in a rural or agricultural area, fire up an outdoor still indoors, walk to town for lunch, come back a few hours later and either you have "moonshine" of the moon shines onto the hole your burn into the ground.

Anonymous said...

There was a previous incident. Same distillery, similar circumstances. They patched it. Read the dialog..

Yet Another distiller

Anonymous said...

I'm shopping for a still for my expanding distillery.

This incident was actually brought to my attention by another still manufacturer. One thing I haven't heard discussed is an overpressure relief valve or device. Every still should have at least one overpressure relief valve (and preferably located at the top of the boiler where solids from foam coming off the boil won't clog it up) and a vacuum breaker to stop the still from collapsing if a vacuum builds from liquid in condensing plumbing.

This was a real tragedy for the families involved, but people need to keep in mind that the barriers to entry for most distillers are huge, and a whole extra layer of regulation and insurance industry terror is an excessive solution.