The post below is a message from my mother — as only she could write — in regard to what led up to and what happened immediately following the copper theft home explosion that claimed my stepfather’s life.
Two months after Earl’s death, Mom wrote this letter by hand and asked me to post it on my blog for her. I did take the liberty, however, of adding one of my favorite pictures of the two of them. They were still this much in love and so very happy right up until the day the copper thieves stole Earl’s life from him and from us.
Here is what my mom, Hope Thelander, wanted people to know.
- Earl Thelander and Hope Ewing before they married in 1982. A few months shy of their 25th wedding anniversary, Earl died from burns suffered in a house explosion after copper thieves stripped propane lines from a rural home the couple were renovating and let the home fill with propane gas. Earl and Hope had been working daily at the home — which formerly belonged to Hope’s parents — and had reported the burglary and gas leak to local authorities earlier that morning. After all officials left the rural residence and Earl returned later that day to install a new water pump and tank, the home exploded when he plugged in a squirrel cage blower to help dry water from the basement floor due to water lines the copper thieves had also cut and stolen.
November 1, 2007
Two months ago today, my husband of nearly 25 years passed away at Clarkson Burn Center in Omaha of burns he suffered from an explosion at my parents’ old home in rural Onawa. Earl and I had purchased the home and had been finishing up work there after one of my daughters and her husband moved out.
Since the accident on August 28, and Earl’s subsequent death four days later, my family and friends have taken all interviews in order to protect my feelings at such a terrible time. There have been several newspaper accounts of that day, and though I am extremely grateful for the media’s help in keeping this investigation in the forefront, as Earl’s wife I feel I need to address some misinformation as to what actually took place.
Earl had turned off the propane at the tank when he first arrived at about 8:30 a.m. He then had me call the sheriff’s office to tell them of the break-in.
Between approximately 10-10:15 a.m., Sheriff Pratt and Officer Joe Farrens arrived to take a statement. At that time Sheriff Pratt, Joe Farrens, Earl and myself, my brother-in-law, Dave Anderson, and my daughter, Kysa Ewing, went through the house opening windows. (We later were told we didn’t have the explosion then because the oxygen level was too low.)
We all came back home to Onawa, having left open all windows and doors to ventilate the house.
At approximately 11:30 a.m., Earl went back to the farm to hook up a new water pump and tank in the basement. Ordinarily, I accompanied him when he was working at the farm, but he insisted it wouldn’t take long and that he would not be too late for lunch.
My nephew, Norman Johnson, arrived at our Onawa home shortly after that, bringing Earl and me some lunch.
Shortly after 12:00, Earl came in the door with his burned shirt hanging around him in shreds. He was badly burned and said the house “exploded” when he plugged in a squirrel cage blower to dry the water on the floor that had leaked after the water lines on the water heater had been cut. (Not to air any remaining propane fumes as has been mistakenly reported in the media.) Norman and I – not the ambulance – took Earl to the hospital where Dr. John Garred Jr. called for life flight to take Earl to the Clarkson Burn Center in Omaha. Dr. Garred explained to us the prognosis of someone Earl’s age surviving the vast scope of the third-degree burns was not good — despite Earl being otherwise quite healthy.
Four days later, after being kept in an induced coma to prevent pain, Earl passed away. At his side to say last goodbyes were his children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and myself.
We have been through anger, frustration, grief, loneliness and disbelief that he is gone, particularly because he was taken away so suddenly and there was so much more he wanted to do with his life. I miss him so much.
I miss the coffee breaks (every 15 minutes).
I miss him watching Bill O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” at 7 p.m.
I miss seeing him fill the bird feeders and calling me to see a cardinal whenever they would fly in.
I wanted so badly to have him see that his three puny tomato plants produced literally hundreds of tomatoes.
If there is anything to be thankful about over this, it is that he didn’t have to endure months of painful treatments for his burns. In addition:
I’m thankful he didn’t know I was diagnosed with breast cancer six days after his funeral.
I’m thankful he was able to get out of the basement and drive home to me.
I’m thankful that he woke me up at 4 a.m. August 28 to look at the eclipse of the moon with him in what we didn’t know then had just become our last morning together.
I’m thankful that instead of five children, I have 11 to help me with the things he’d always insisted on doing himself.
Yes, he was a good man, a good friend, and a wonderful husband and father.
We will all miss him, but we will work together to solve this senseless and needless crime.
In Earl’s memory