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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2004

Man dies of injuries in water heater explosion

SCOTCH RIDGE, Ohio - The 69-year-old man who was badly burned in an explosion while installing a water heater for a neighbor here Monday evening died early yesterday morning.

Dale E. Starkey died at about 12:30 a.m. in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, where he was flown from what is thought to have been an accidental propane explosion in this eastern Wood County community.

The state fire marshal's office and Pemberville-Freedom Volunteer Fire Department are investigating the explosion at the home of William and Karen Miller, who live across Scotch Ridge Road from the Starkey home.

"We really don't know for certain what sparked it," Pemberville Assistant Chief Duane Martin said. A state fire marshal's spokesman said preliminary tests showed a propane leak, but investigators had not determined its location.

Mr. Martin estimated the loss of the Miller home and contents at $220,000. The house remained standing, but was blown off its foundation and walls bulged from the explosion which also caused fire and smoke damage.

Mr. Starkey's daughter, Brenda Schnitker, and several other family members talked to him briefly at the site of the explosion Monday as emergency workers prepared him to fly to Toledo in a medical helicopter.

Mr. Starkey was alert and told medical workers his name and how he was injured, but by the time they saw him again at the hospital he was no longer able to converse. "It was a horrendous shock," his daughter said.

Mr. Starkey was an experienced construction supervisor and outdoorsman who taught gun safety classes to youth.

He had been a construction foreman, supervising crews of eight to 15 carpenters on jobs at Medical College of Ohio and Riverside hospitals in Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and commercial buildings as far away as Youngstown.

He learned the trade on the job after cutting meat at the former Kuhlman's Meat Market in Scotch Ridge and repairing vehicles at a mechanic's shop there as a young man, his son Duane said.

He was a union carpenter and then was employed with Ceco Concrete Construction Co. in Detroit. He retired in his 50s after he was hit by a car when getting the mail at his mailbox. At the time he feared he could no longer safely climb ladders at construction sites, his son said.

But over the years he helped many neighbors and family members in Wood County and in Florida, where he spent winters, with building and repair projects.

Mr. Starkey was born in southeastern Ohio's Monroe County. He had lived in Wood County for more than 40 years.

Surviving are his wife, Marilyn; sons, Bill, Mick, Duane, Keith, and Kirk; daughter, Brenda Schnitker; brothers, Bill and Ray; sisters, Joan Winkler and Sarah Starkey; 18 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in Marsh Funeral Home, Pemberville, where visitation will be from 7-9 p.m. today and 2-9 p.m. tomorrow.

The family suggests tributes to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center's burn unit or the Ohio Division of Wildlife youth education and safety programs.



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