1 of 3
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
LaDonna Beardall, flanked by her sister-in-law, Jenifer Jensen, and her mother, Darlene Nelson, discusses her devastation at finding out her husband, Tim, had been injured in Sunday's explosion.

LaDonna Beardall is in anguish, watching her husband try to move about in his hospital bed.

"I'd like to think it's because he recognizes me, but I don't know," she said Monday. "Most probably it's because he's in pain."

Tim Beardall doesn't talk and isn't opening his eyes, but he's moving as he lies in a medically induced coma after being critically burned in Sunday night's explosion at Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Co., 2550 S. Industrial Parkway, just south of Provo.

"He's got second-degree burns to his hands and his face and is on life support right now," LaDonna Beardall said. "They don't know how much of the chemical he has in his lungs."

The Spanish Fork woman spoke about her husband as her sister-in-law and mother looked on Monday at University Hospital's Hope Chapel. Tim Beardall, 35, is hospitalized in critical condition in the burn unit.

Wringing her hands, she recounted the horror of learning that her husband was injured in the explosion. Beardall said her husband was working in a crane when he was burned.

"My whole world just dropped," she said. "I didn't know what to think. I just thought, 'This can't be happening to me. Not to my husband, not to my kids. We need him so much."'

Less than 10 minutes after Bob Beardall arrived at work and put his lunch in the break room he heard the boom.

"Then all the windows came spraying out at me, then dirt, then darkness," he recalled. "I thought it was the building I was in because it shook pretty bad."

Beardall said he and several co-workers grabbed flashlights and hurried to the main production building where a fiery, gas explosion had rocked the plant, as well as homes miles away in all directions.

Beardall said he was looking for his nephew, Tim, who had been operating a crane during his graveyard shift on the cleanup crew. They found Tim, and medical crews took him and 10 others to Provo's Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

Nine of the employees were released a few hours later, but Tim Beardall and co-worker Gustavo Cervantes were more seriously injured and taken by medical helicopter to University Hospital. Cervantes was discharged late Monday, said hospital spokeswoman Chantell Turner.

Authorities believe the explosion occurred when a crane operator — possibly Tim Beardall — began moving a load of calcium carbide. Some of the chemical slipped out of the hopper and fell into a nearby vat of water, creating a highly flammable gas.

Once the gas filled the room, it exploded when ignited by flames used in the production process, Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said.

"There's very little apparent fire damage because in a situation like this the fire event does not usually last very long," he said Monday. "But from the force of the explosion, there's ... extensive damage inside the building."

Family members said the crane took the brunt of the blast, and Tim Beardall was wearing protective gear that likely saved his life.

Business at the company will not resume until the investigations are complete, said plant general manager John Balian. Until then, they're working with the injured employees and their families.

"We will do everything within our power to ensure their needs are met during this difficult time," Balian said in a statement. "We have notified all federal, state and local agencies of the incident and will continue to provide these reporting agencies with updates and answer all questions they might have."

The county is finishing its investigation, which doesn't point to any criminal activity. The Utah County fire marshal is also involved, and there will be a review from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well, Cannon said.

LaDonna Beardall said she didn't hear the explosion, but her mother called her in hysterics. When her husband didn't answer his phone, she raced out to the plant.

"Nobody knew anything," she recalled. "As I was headed back to my truck to wait for news, I noticed there was a message on my phone. I replayed it and one of his co-workers left a message for me saying, 'Your husband's been hurt, but he's OK. He says as soon as he can, he's going to call you.' My whole world just dropped again. I just fell to my knees and shattered."

Tim Beardall had worked at Pacific States for nearly nine years, his mother said. Bob Beardall, who has been there about 3 1/2 years, said he couldn't remember any explosion that big happening before.

"And I've talked to people who worked there 12 years and they've never seen that," Bob Beardall said.

He said the employees waited outside while many were checked by medical personnel. Those who had been in the building when the explosion occurred were covered in calcium carbide dust and told not to shower until they could be rubbed down with a vinegar-water mix.

The Provo Fire Department and its hazardous materials team was on site to neutralize the dust that had settled, half an inch thick, over everything in the main production building, Cannon said.

Bob Beardall said one man who was particularly dirty sneaked off to shower and the interaction with the water gave him what looked like a bad sunburn, he said.

Pacific State's parent company, McWane Inc., is headquartered in Alabama and opened the Utah County plant in 1926. Workers produce ductile iron pipe for use in water distribution, sewers, wastewater treatment plants and industrial piping.

Although the company has had some expensive pollution problems in the past — McWane Inc. was fined nearly $3 million in 2006 for falsifying air pollution test results and later placed on probation by a federal judge in Utah for allegedly "rigging" pollution compliance tests — there are no recent violations, said officials at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

The company also received an award last year — Outstanding Achievement Award by the Utah Pollution Prevention Association, which was given to six recipients for their actions to reduce pollutants to air, land and water.

At University Hospital, LaDonna Beardall said her children can't even bring themselves to see their father. Tim Beardall's sons, ages 14 and 9, and daughter, 7, are "everything to him."

"My 14-year-old, he came and he walked into the room and he looked at him and said, 'Mom I can't see him like this. I have to go,"' LaDonna said.

The family is asking for prayers for his recovery.

"Just pray for him," LaDonna said, wiping away tears. "We need him."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com; sisraelsen@desnews.com