By Oliver Lazenby
A Customs and Border Protection supervisor who works in Blaine went to jail after getting drunk, blowing up a garage, and injuring three people in a fireworks accident at a Fourth of July party.
Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a party on the 3700 block of Spring Coulee Road north of Bellingham on July 4 at 9:47 p.m. after receiving reports of a fire and injuries at a party. Witnesses at the party reported that Detlef Goellner, 52, was drunk and acting out of control. He was throwing firework “poppers” at people in the yard and then entered the garage where a “neatly stacked collection of fireworks” was set on a table.
After throwing more poppers at the ground, Goellner grabbed a mortar-style firework from the stack, according to witnesses interviewed by deputies.
Partygoers told Goellner to “stop” and “calm down,” and someone shouted “Don’t light that!”
Goellner lit it and hurled it outside, according to the sheriff’s office. Sparks from the mortar ignited the entire stack, which then exploded before bystanders could get away; about 15 people were within 10 feet of the explosion when it happened,
A 20-year-old woman was knocked off her feet by the explosion. Medics treated her for leg injuries, possibly from shrapnel, at the scene and she later went to the hospital for further treatment.
Two men suffered from smoke inhalation while attempting to put out the fire. One went to the hospital and the other didn’t immediately seek treatment. Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks didn’t know the extent of the injuries, he said on Tuesday.
The explosion caused significant damage, including structural damage, to the garage. The homeowner estimated the damage to be around $20,000, but told deputies it could be as much as $60,000. He also said the fireworks were stored well away from the designated firework lighting area and that safety measures such as an emergency water bucket were in place.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Goellner on suspicion of reckless burning in the first degree, which is a class C felony and carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $10,000 fine. He was also charged with three misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment. Appearing in Whatcom County Superior Court on July 4, $10,000 bail was set by Commissioner Martha Gross who said Goellner had “endanger[ed] a lot of people” and was “someone who should’ve known better.”
Goellner had previously served at the Point Roberts port of entry. On June 7, 2015, Goellner was on duty when B.C. resident Jim Graham collapsed at the border after suffering a heart attack. As reported by the All Point Bulletin, “first on the scene was Customs and Border Protection officer Detlef Goellner who was out of the building in “moments,” and began performing CPR, bringing Graham “back from the brink of death twice.” Goellner had recently finished a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Goellner kept Graham alive until the arrival of a crew from the Point Roberts fire department with paramedic Ben Boyko who carried on until the arrival of an Airlift Northwest helicopter. Graham was then transported to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.” Graham later made a full recovery and was present at a ceremony a few months later when Goellner and others were presented with an award by congresswoman Suzan DelBene.