Big Lawsuit Emerges Over Fatality in Vintage Tank

Shell explosion in Oregon killed Steve Preston, young assistant
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 5, 2018 10:05 AM CST
In this 2015 file photo, a blue tarp covers the 1944 M18 Hellcat tank destroyer after the fatal accident outside Bend, Ore.   (Ryan Brennecke/The Bulletin via AP)

(Newser) – Oregon's Steve Preston died in 2015 while doing one of his favorite things: firing old shells from a World War II-era tank on a firing range. His death came when one of those shells misfired, and now his family is seeking almost $13 million in a lawsuit from the man who supplied the ammunition, reports the Bend Bulletin. The supplier, however, says Preston, 51, was the negligent one in the blast, which also killed Preston's 22-year-old assistant, Austin Lee. "I told him, 'If you put one more ounce in there, you're going to blow yourself up,'" Chuck Hegele tells the newspaper. "He put 8 more ounces in."

The explosion was actually caught on film, per the Oregonian, because Preston was having a promotional video made. One reason the amount being sought is so high is that while Lee was killed instantly, Preston survived for nearly a half-hour, though barely. He suffered "imminent fear of death" in that time, says the lawsuit. Lee's family also has sued over the accident, and that lawsuit blames both Preston and Hegele, along with others. Hegele says he would have typically handled the ammo himself in such demonstrations, but his shoulder was in a sling at the time. (A Michigan man trying to show his girlfriend how safe his guns were killed himself by accident.)

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