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Fatal Accident At Mineral Mine In San Juan County

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Two Moab area residents are dead after an industrial accident at the Intrepid Potash mine in San Juan County on Saturday. 

Russell Helquist and Matthew Johnston were electrocuted when the industrial equipment they were operating touched a power line, according to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office. A third man, Arthur Secrest, was found unconscious but breathing and transferred to the University of Utah Burn Center. Secrest was last reported in critical condition.

Intrepid representatives told the Deseret News that the cause of the accident is under investigation and that operations at the mine have been suspended. Intrepid manufactures fertilizer and is the country’s largest producer of potassium chloride.

A number of agencies responded to the scene on state Route 279, including the Grand County and San Juan County Sheriff’s Offices, the Moab City Police Department, Moab Valley Fire Department, Classic Air Medical, and Grand County Emergency Medical Services.

Grand County EMS Director Andy Smith described a very active situation on Saturday when first responders arrived.

"Our first arriving supervisor was on scene within 16 minutes of being dispatched," Smith said. "And that time the power, there were some dangers still on scene, and we weren’t, we didn’t know if the power had been shut off. And this construction equipment they were using was on fire and that was causing a hazard as well. So, it was a very active scene still when responders got there."

Accidents and fatalities uniquely affect a small town like Moab. Smith says some law enforcement officers who responded Saturday, were related to the individuals, and several of the responding paramedics and EMTs also knew them personally. Smith described the men as well known and respected in the community.

"Despite what people think, or what they would like to think, Moab is still a very small town you know," he said. "I’ve only been here seven years and knew of all three of these individuals, and one of them pretty well personally. And when you get a larger incident where there’s many people involved and all from the community, I think the whole community suffers."

Grand County EMS expressed gratitude to all first responder and offered their hearts and prayers to all those affected by the incident.