Distillery temporarily closes after explosion

Photo of renovations to building before distillery moved in
Photo of renovations to building before distillery moved in
Photo of door to distillery hanging after the explosion
Photo of door to distillery hanging after the explosion

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – A distillery in Newport has delayed production until the distiller and his secretary recover from burns stemming from an explosion. Police Chief Michael Scudder with the Newport Police Department said a leak sparked an explosion at Old Ed Ward's Distillery at 420 Beech Street. The distillery is located in the middle of a neighborhood.

"I got a phone call this morning at our home office in Batesville. All I was told at the time was that we had an explosion here and had some injuries," said Tami Edgin, who manages the production of Arkansas Moonshine.

Edgin said she received the call at about 10:30. Both victims were transported to Little Rock hospitals on a helicopter.

"Our master moonshine man, Mr. Bishop, did end up going to the hospital, and we will probably be shut down, at least in production, until he is back on the job and doing better," said Edgin. "He is our plant manager and he's the man who does all the cooking and everything."

The Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Control Board indicated Tuesday afternoon the distillery has not been found in violation of anything since it began production in 2010. Scudder said no charges are expected and the investigation is mostly closed. Scudder classified the incident as a "workplace accident."

"We have our column on one of our stills got blown off of that. We've got some water damage on the floor and some of our jugs got melted, but other than that, there's really not that much damage," said Edgin. "We do not think it was gas. From what we have heard from the hospital, the burns on our employees were steam burns, so we're assuming it had something to do with pressure."

ABC agents will supervise the building until finished product can be moved to a secure location.

"We have no burnt areas. The only damage we have is the door and some melted jugs," said Edgin.

"I thought it'd look worse on the inside than it did. I was surprised. It was just evidently the concussion from the explosion that caused the pressure buildup that buckled the door like that," said Patrick Thompson, son-in-law to the distillery's owner.

Thompson said he's been in contact with the victims' families, who keep him informed of their well-being.

"One of the EMTs said he was burnt up pretty good. His left side of his body and his arm," said Thompson. "The number one (still) is the one that blew, but if Larry comes out of it and the girl (Ashley) come out of it okay, then you couldn't ask for anything more than that."

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