Accidents happen in school science labs -- but they hardly ever result in criminal accusations.
Daniel Powell is an exception to this rule. He's been charged with multiple assault beefs for a methanol explosion that injured four students, including one who spent weeks in the hospital for burns that initially put him in critical condition. Photos, video, a police report and more below.
The location of the incident was the STRIVE Preparatory Schools SMART Academy, located on the 3200 block of West Arizona Avenue. On September 15, according to a probable cause statement shared here, members of the Denver Fire Department responded to a fire in room 120, the chemistry lab.
The report notes that the fire caused minimal property damage -- but four students were transported to area hospitals for burns.
The person hurt worst was sixteen-year-old Dominic Vargas, who was critically burned in the mishap. Vargas' family started a GoFundMe page to raise money to cover his medical costs, and the latest update, posted five days ago, notes a positive development:
Dominic is finally out of the hospital! He is currently at home receiving home visits from the nurse everyday, but he feels better at home than in a hospital! He would like to thank everybody that donated and sent prayers to him. Before you know it he will be back to his normal self in no time! Thanks again!
What led to the students' wounds? The PC statement, referencing a Powell statement, reads in part:
The chemistry teacher, Daniel, stated that he went to pour more methanol on a small fire when the flame went back into the bottle and shot flaming methanol in the direction of the students. The flaming methanol resulted in the injuries.
Powell, a first-year instructor, reportedly lacked a teacher's license -- something that's not required at some charter schools. However, he was fired by STRIVE earlier this month; see a letter to parents explaining the move below.
The bad news for Powell didn't end there. The Denver District Attorney's Office has now served Powell with a summons charging him with four counts of misdemeanor third-degree assault owing to alleged negligence. He's due in court on November 18.
STRIVE Preparatory Schools SMART Academy letter to parents:
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October 3, 2014
Dear SMART families,
Nearly three weeks since the chemistry lab accident at SMART, we wanted to communicate some updates regarding the condition of our scholars, and our plans for moving forward with regards to staffing, course credits, and safety.
The safety and well-being of our students and staff is always front and center in our minds - never so much as in the days and weeks following this incident. We are happy to report that three of the four injured scholars are back in school and Dominic's condition continues to improve.
Dominic's family is so grateful for the support they have received from all of you. We continue to make sure that students and staff have access to ongoing counseling support, and we maintain close contact with Dominic's family. They are regularly in our thoughts.
We are deeply inspired by our students, families, and staff. Our shared community is a model for resolve, healing, and getting stronger together, and we are so appreciative of what each of you contributed to homecoming events, fundraisers and prayer services - events that demonstrate the strong sense of community at SMART and your commitment to our scholars.
As for other matters, Mr. Powell's employment with SMART has been terminated. We will continue with a qualified substitute while we look to permanently fill the position. Additionally, we are in contact with the Colorado Department of Education to ensure that we are maximizing the use of online video demonstrations to allow students to continue their chemistry coursework, and ensure students will earn full credit for chemistry classes through the transition.
In the letter we sent on September 15, we referenced suspending all science lab demonstrations and experiments until further notice. That suspension remains in place. At this time we are working with Denver Public Schools and the Denver Fire Department to ensure that our building meets all safety codes.
We are also bringing on an independent company to perform a school safety evaluation of our entire program, including science labs. Once we have the full report, we will move quickly to implement recommendations and ensure that students are safe and able to focus on learning when they are here at school.
If you have any questions at all about our response to this incident or our efforts to ensure ongoing student safety, please reach out to either one of us. Thank you for everything you are doing to pull the SMART community together, we are deeply grateful for your trust in us, and deeply committed to the safety and success of your children as we all move forward.
Chris Gibbons Antonio Vigil
CEO School Director
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.