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Henrich speaks about surviving explosion

PRESCOTT --- The look on his face told it all.

Prescott Police Officer Ben Henrich walked into Tuesday's press conference at the Prescott Emergency Medical Services Training Room as a man who had one of the roughest 72 hour stretches anyone could ever have.

And everyone in attendance knew it.

Henrich was involved in the Feb. 17 house explosion that killed a woman. While she hadn't been officially identified as of the conference, Acting Police Chief Mike Bondarenko announced that, due to the circumstances and the evidence presented, the female was Lisa Villigan, 39, of Prescott. (Prescott police confirmed Villigan's identity a day later.)

Villigan had driven into the house of Randy and Sue Hendrickson, 1010 Pearl St., at around 8:51 p.m. that night. Henrich arrived on scene approximately two minutes later. He told the Hendricksons, who were outside the house when he arrived, to evacuate the area because Henrich smelled a strong gas odor.

Henrich, who has been in Prescott for the last two years, three overall as a police officer, immediately tried to establish contact with Villigan, asking "Are you OK?" but got no response. That was on the passenger's side of the vehicle. He then moved over to the driver's side to see if that worked.

Then, disaster struck.

"I believe in her disoriented state, she started the car to back out of the house," Henrich said.

When that occurred, Villigan's vehicle, a 2001 GMC Sierra, and most of Hendrickson's house became engulfed in flames as the vehicle was right on top of a gas line. As a result, Henrich was thrown approximately 15 feet from the vehicle. He was eventually treated and released from Regina Medical Center in Hastings, Minn., for scrapes and burns on his face and hands.

Henrich gave a detailed description of his night.

"I didn't hear it, I felt it," he said, describing the explosion. "Everything under the truck came right at me.

"I'm beside myself on how lucky I am."

Prescott police released a video taken from Henrich's vehicle dashboard. It showed parts of the explosion and then right afterwards Henrich being pulled to his vehicle by fellow officer George Toman.

Henrich explained he was on patrol near the area when he heard the call, saying there was a 911 hang-up on Pearl Street. Protocol calls for law enforcement to respond to any 911 calls. While he was on route, he was alerted of a second call that came from the James Street area of the collision.

For his physical scars, Henrich described his left ring and middle finger as extremely bruised (he used the hand to shield his face when the explosion occurred) and his face is healing. He added he is off work until the end of the month and has every intention of returning once that time comes.

The emotional scars might be a different story. While Dawn Parker, Villigan's sister-in-law, praised Henrich's efforts in trying to save her at the conference, he gave off the expression of otherwise.

"I don't know what I could have done differently," he said. "I'm very thankful I got out of the explosion. It still wasn't a good ending."

Bondarenko said the investigation is still ongoing, but officials are focusing on three key factors: 1) Were there any mechanical issues with the vehicle? 2) The condition of Villigan when the accident occurred, as toxicology reports are pending, and 3) A Black SUV was seen by an eyewitness leaving when Villigan crashed into the house. Bondarenko implied the police department would very much like to talk to that driver.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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