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Interior of the Loy-Lange Box Co. after a boiler explosion killed one worker there and then launched across the street and killed three brand new hires at Faultless Healthcare Linen in St. Louis.
Post-Dispatch Photo

A fourth person died after an explosion launched a boiler-like water tank 500 feet from a box manufacturer into a neighboring laundry building across the street.

The force of the explosion was so strong it catapulted the tank, the size of a van, into the air where it flew approximately 500 feet before landing on a nearby laundry facility, killing three workers.

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Clifford Lee, 53, of St. Louis, died Wednesday at St. Louis University Hospital, the medical examiner said. Lee was with two friends Monday filling out new employee paperwork at Faultless Linen Co. when the one-ton water tank exploded at nearby Loy-Lange Box Co. flew through the air and crashed through the linen company’s roof.

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His friends, Christopher Watkins, 46, and Tonya Suarez-Gonzalez, 43, a married couple from St. Ann, Missouri, died at the scene.

A Loy-Lange engineer, Kenneth Trentham, 59, also died in the blast. Trentham was one of three engineers at the company licensed to operate boilers. He started working at Loy-Lange in 1996, said Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said.

Federal and local investigators are working to determine the cause of the blast.

Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said the boiler is about the size of a full size van.

Another employee of Loy-Lange remained hospitalized Thursday in critical but stable condition.

A three-person investigative team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has joined the investigation.

A third building suffered damage when a pipe penetrated its roof, but no one suffered any injuries, fire officials said.

OSHA’s online records show Loy-Lange ended up cited this past year for a “general requirement” arising from holes in floors that prevented proper cleaning.

In 2014, the company paid $2,450 of an initial $3,500 fine for improper energy control procedures, such as failing to properly train employees to ensure machinery was turned off and powered down and for not conducting annual energy control inspections.

OSHA spokesman Scott Allen couldn’t say if that violation had anything to do with the boiler. Because the city mandates licensed engineers to operate high-pressure boilers, they are under constant inspection, rather than just once per year, Crane said.

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