Close friend of Wade King doesn't take life for granted

Tyson Clarke was a friend of Wade King, who died in the 1999 pipeline explosion in Bellingham.
Tyson Clarke was a friend of Wade King, who died in the 1999 pipeline explosion in Bellingham. COURTESY

But for a family vacation, Tyson Clarke might have been playing near Whatcom Creek with Wade King on June 10, 1999, the day a ruptured pipeline turned the creek into an inferno.

The escaping gasoline ignited, badly burning Wade and Stephen Tsiorvas, both 10.

Tyson, the son of Bellingham High School Principal Steve Clarke, was in Wade's fourth-grade class at Roosevelt Elementary. They had become good friends the year before.

"Really, really good friends," Tyson said.

They played basketball together on a team coached by Tyson's dad. As is often the case with good friends, Tyson and Wade complemented each other.

Tyson said he was more reserved, more do the right thing. Wade loved to have fun. Tyson told Wade to pay attention in class.

"We balanced each other out," Tyson said.

Wade was smart, Tyson said, and had a sensitive side.

"He was the first guy to apologize," Tyson said. "He was a good influence on me that way."

Tyson knew Stephen, too, but not as well.

June 10 was the last day of school at Roosevelt, Tyson said. He got out of school a few hours early because his family was traveling to Chelan for a vacation. Wade looked forward to Tyson's return.

"Right before we were leaving, he asked my mom five times when I was coming back," Tyson said.

Later that afternoon, Wade and Stephen went into Whatcom Falls Park to play. Shortly after 5 p.m., the gasoline flowing into the creek ignited - sparked, it was learned later, by a lighter the boys were playing with.

In Chelan, the Clarke family received phone calls about the disaster. They saw Wade's picture on the TV news.

"I couldn't even fathom it," Tyson said. "I was with him five hours earlier."

The Clarkes returned to Bellingham the next day, the same day that Wade and Stephen died.

Tyson joined his classmates at Wade's funeral four days later.

"We were all crying," he said. "At 10 years old, it doesn't make any sense."

A few months later, Tyson's uncle, his father's brother, died in a commercial airliner crash.

Now 20, Tyson is studying urban development at the University of Washington, and might pursue a career in law enforcement.

He said Wade's death, and his uncle's, changed him.

"It has made me care more for people," he said. "I just don't take anything for granted."