Hundreds Remember Middletown Power Plant Explosion Victims

The Hartford Courant

Hundreds of people, including several state officials, turned out Saturday for a memorial Mass in honor of the six workers who were killed in the Kleen Energy plant explosion.

Pews were filled inside the Catholic church of St. Mary of Czestochowa Parish, with about a 100 people lining the back wall.

Bagpipers played music outside the church before the service.

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The families of three of the victims, Peter C. Chepulis, 48, of Thomaston, Ronald J. Crabb, 42, of Colchester, and Raymond E. Dobratz, 58, of Old Saybrook, were in attendance. The other three men killed by the Feb. 7 explosion were Chris Walters, 48, of Florissant, Mo.; Kenneth Haskell, 37, of New Durham, N.H., and Roy Rushton, 36, of Hamilton, Ontario.

The Feb. 7 blast also injured 26 people.

Outside the church after the service, Erik Dobratz, son of Raymond Dobratz, said he was heartened by the turnout at the memorial service. He described his father as a devoted family man and avid fisherman, pulling out a photo of his father triumphantly holding a 52-pound striped bass.

"He loved fishing, he loved his family, he loved his work," said Dobratz, 36, of Hamden. "That's the best way to describe him."

At the reception, Jim Juliano of Newtown, a retired business manager for the pipe fitters' union, said he knew all six men killed in the blast, but was particularly close to Ronald Crabb.

Juliano said he had a voice mail from Crabb on the day of the explosion, but "I didn't get a chance to call him back."

Gil Ouellette, who worked at the plant until he was laid off in January, remembered Dobratz as a "happy-go-lucky guy." Part of the daily routine, he said, was joking around with Dobratz.

The Mass was organized by Hope Kasper, a member of the Middletown Common Council. Kasper said she got the idea after asking a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 777 union. He urged her to pray.

The Rev. Marek Masnicki, who said the Mass, told the crowd, "This tragedy rocked around the world." He said he spoke to members of his family in Poland who had heard the news that "something terrible happened in Middletown, Connecticut."

Among those in attendance were Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state Treasurer Nancy Wyman, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and U.S. Rep. John Larson.

Blumenthal, reached after the service, said: "These tragic deaths show again the desperate need for stronger worker safety protections by federal authorities, which have been excessively lax in recent years. The best tribute to these heroes will be strong and strengthened enforcement of better worker safety protection."

A reception was held in the basement of the church, but shortly after the service, many of the mourners headed over to Local 777 headquarters in Meriden to commiserate. An organizer of that gathering told a reporter that the media were not allowed inside.

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