Learning from the Tragic Accident in Medina

How we respond to the explosion of a Case 110 in Medina, Ohio

| November/December 2001

I doubt there is anyone in the steam hobby who is unaware of the tragic explosion that occurred July 29 at the Medina County Fairgrounds in Medina, Ohio. At 6:20 p.m. that fateful Sunday, as many people were likely readying dinner or otherwise settling in at the fairgrounds in anticipation of the festivities to come, Cliff Kovacic was positioning his Case 110 (the engine's exact year of production has not been confirmed) inside the fairgrounds when it exploded, instantly killing Kovacic, 48, his son William, 26, and family friend Alan Kimble, 46. Dennis Jungbluth, 58, another long-time friend who was on board, died a few hours later, and seven days later Bryan Hammond, 18, who was part of Kovacic's crew, succumbed to injuries he sustained in the explosion. Five people died as a result of that accident, and in the process our hobby, whether we like it or not, changed forever.

For many in the steam family this tragic accident has served as a wake-up call, a reminder of the deadly potential of steam and of the power steam traction engine operators harness every time they actively display their equipment. While we can't take back what has happened, we can take something positive from this accident, but that will depend entirely upon how we respond. Many owners I have talked to since July 29 have emphatically stressed the need for all of us to be more aware of the dangers inherent in steam and to respond accordingly. Owners and operators appear to be in universal agreement that the worst thing we can do is ignore what occurred, and that the best thing we can do is to move forward, forewarned and forearmed, incorporating this event into an appropriate response that will strengthen our resolve to ensure that the equipment we operate is properly maintained and operated.

With that spirit in mind we want to present the facts of the accident as they are known, and then engage in a discussion of the accident and what we can learn from it: what the accident means to us and what we can do to ensure our safety and the safety of those around us, so that our hobby – and lifestyle – is not threatened and our equipment is not relegated to static display.

Facts of The Accident:

Since everyone who was involved in operating Kovacic's Case 110 died in the explosion, we will never know exactly what happened that day. Even so, a relatively complete, if slightly disputed, picture can be constructed from investigations and examinations of the remains of the Case 110. An initial report on the cause of the explosion was released August 10 by officials from the Ohio Department of Commerce. As we go to print for this issue a final report is still forthcoming from the Medina County Sheriff's Office. It is not known if, or how, the final report might differ from the initial findings.

That initial report, printed in full below, was commissioned by Dean Jagger, chief boiler inspector for the state of Ohio. For the Ohio report, specialists from the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors and from Case Western Reserve University inspected and tested various components of the Case 110. Additionally, John Payton, director of boiler inspections for the state of Pennsylvania, was asked by the Medina County Sheriff's Office to conduct his own investigation into the accident, a second opinion, if you will.

The complete report as released by the Ohio Department of Commerce and sent to Lieutenant John Detchon of the Medina County Sheriff's Office is presented below. Lt. Detchon is in charge of the Medina Sheriff's Office investigation. Following the report from the state of Ohio is the report from John Payton. Readers will note that while many of the basic facts are consistent between the two reports, the conclusions reached are quite different.