DIXON – Farming was a passion for Rory Miller and his son, Ryan, and although he dreamed of owning his own farm, working with his dad was a dream come true.
Saturday, the men who shared a deep love for the land and for each other will be buried together.
Rory H. Miller, 59, of Amboy, and Ryan S. Miller, 30, of Oregon, were laying tile in a field northeast of the intersection of state Route 38 and Nachusa Road around 9 a.m. Tuesday when the tractor pulling the tiling plow became stuck, and a second tractor, trying to free the first, lost traction and hit the 20-inch transmission pipe, setting off an explosion and ensuing fireball that could be seen for miles.
The men, each of whom was driving a tractor, died at the scene, Sheriff John Simonton said.
Autopsies were conducted Wednesday morning, but a cause of death still is pending, Coroner Jesse Partington said.
Two other men, Michael Koster, 20, of Sterling, and Kyler Ackland, 20, of West Brooklyn, were injured in the blast and resulting fireball. Those four were the only men working the field at the time, Simonton said.
Koster, son of Norm and Ann Koster, is in critical condition at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.
According to posts on the fundraising site GoFundMe, Koster was on a backhoe and rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames, which left him with second- and third-degree burns on his hands, arms, legs and back – about 50 percent to 60 percent of his body.
Ackland was treated and released.
Rory and his wife, Kathy, Ryan and his wife Jill, and Mark and Gloria Nusbaum are partners in nearby M&R Farms, at 1684 Nachusa Road. The accident happened on land owned by Keith Spangler that they were renting.
In addition to farming – which was their passion, family said – both Rory and Ryan were CPAs who worked during tax season for Wipfli Inc. in Dixon, Rory for about 35 years, and Ryan for 3 years.
"They were both top-notch individuals, extremely well-respected and well-liked" by clients and the folks at Wipfli, said Rory Sohn, a partner in the Dixon office.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss and our hearts go to out to the family," Sohn said. "They are a really great family."
Michael Book, 31, who farms about 4 miles south of Dixon, is a longtime friend of Ryan's; they were Amboy High School FFA members, attended the University of Illinois and joined the FarmHouse Fraternity.
Ryan "loved farming," Book said in an email Wednesday to SVM. "He was never afraid to try new things or learn about new things. He was my go-to person for ideas and concepts that were leading edge. He had recently overhauled the GPS and Ag Management technology at M&R Farms. and had been the friend that other farmers go to for technology questions.
"Ryan was a family man and a good friend to many. He was a man of great faith and loved being a husband and dad. His values were those that most would do well to strive for," Book said.
"His heart was that of a champion."
Rory is survived by his wife and daughter Kelsey Firkins, of St. Peters, Missouri.
Ryan also is survived by his wife, Jill, daughters Madelyn, who turns 4 on Dec. 16, and Morgan, 11 months, and grandmother Yvonne Eccles of Dixon.
Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at New Life Lutheran Church in Sterling, and from 10 a.m. until the funeral begins at 11 Saturday at the church. Burial at Prairie Repose Cemetery in Amboy will be private, and a memorial is being established to the Miller family to set up a college scholarship.
Preston-Schilling Funeral Home in Dixon is handling arrangements.
The pipeline is owned by energy supplier Kinder Morgan Inc. and its subsidiary, Geneseo-based Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America. Neither Kinder Morgan nor JULIE were notified that digging would be done in the field.
"Unfortunately, a required one-call notification was not provided to the company prior to the work being performed," Kinder Morgan said in a news release Wednesday morning.
"Kinder Morgan is working with local, state and federal agencies on response efforts, and appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified. The company is working with customers on any impacts to service.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the injured and deceased," the release said.
Supplies and equipment needed for repairs were being delivered to the site Wednesday, which had been secured, Kinder Morgan said.
The fire, which destroyed the two tractors and two trucks, was out by about 1:15 p.m., after representatives from Kinder Morgan turned off the gas. Route 38 from Robbins to Nachusa Road was closed until about 3:30 p.m.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the state Fire Marshal's Office, the Lee County Sheriff's Department and Illinois State Police are investigating.
The NTSB not only investigates aviation and railroad accidents and certain types of highway crashes, but also pipeline incidents. The NTSB will be looking at issues such as whether the pipe was buried deep enough, while OSHA would be determining if farm safety regulations were followed.
OSHA investigates incidents on farms with 10 or more employees.
It has two representatives at the scene determining if the agency has jurisdiction in this case, said Scott Allen, a regional spokesman.
According to Kinder Morgan, transmission pipes usually are buried 4 to 5 feet deep.
TO HELP MICHAEL
A GoFundMe account to help the Kosters with Michael's medical expenses was established Tuesday.
As of Wednesday evening, about $11,500 of the $15,000 goal had been raised. His family also is posting updates on Michael's condition at shawurl.com/3711.
Briefly, he has third-degree burns on his back, the backs of his legs and arms. His hands also were badly burned and there is a chance he could lose some fingers, and he will have a tracheotomy and be on a ventilator for a long time. A burn specialist from Chicago will oversee his care, and the hope is to begin major skin grafting on Saturday.
"The doctor said he is young and strong and that will help," wrote his sister, Diane Sedig.