An off-duty U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer was arrested after he got drunk at a Fourth of July party and injured people in a fireworks accident, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.
Around 9:45 p.m. Monday, sheriff’s deputies were called to the 3700 block of Spring Coulee Road, north of Bellingham, where firefighters and medics were helping treat someone who had been injured by a fireworks explosion.
Party guests said that 52-year-old Detlef Wilhelm Goellner got drunk and was throwing firework “poppers” at people in the yard, then moved into the garage and threw them at the ground next to a “neatly stacked collection of fireworks on a table” that were set to be used later that night, deputies said.
Someone then saw Goellner grab a mortar-style firework, light it while standing next to the pile, and huck it outside, despite shouts from someone saying, “Don’t light that!” deputies said.
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The sparks from the firework lit up the entire stack, which exploded inside the garage, knocking a 20-year-old woman off her feet as she tried to run away, injuring her and damaging the garage and stuff inside it, according to the sheriff’s office.
Witnesses said about 15 people were within 10 feet of the explosion when it happened.
The woman was treated at the scene for leg injuries possibly from shrapnel – she was close enough that her hair had been singed, deputies reported – then she went to the hospital for further treatment.
A 19-year-old man also was treated at the hospital for smoke inhalation after he tried to put out the fire with a hose. Another man in his 20s reportedly suffered from smoke inhalation, but he did not immediately go to the hospital or ask for medical attention, the sheriff’s office reports.
Deputies were called in to back up the medics because the scene was “volatile,” Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks said.
“I think some people were pretty angry,” Parks said. “I think someone took (Goellner) away from the scene for a while. ... The parties were more than irritated at what had happened.”
Witnesses told deputies they had told Goellner multiple times to “stop” and “calm down” during the party.
The homeowner guessed that the explosion caused about $20,000 in damage to the garage but said it also could be about three times that amount, according to the sheriff’s office.
Goellner was arrested and booked into Whatcom County Jail on Tuesday morning.
During his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon, Commissioner Martha Gross set Goellner’s bail at $10,000.
“People could have been seriously hurt here,” Gross said. “I recognize he doesn’t have any criminal history to speak of, but this is endangering a lot of people as someone who should’ve known better.”
Goellner was charged with one count of first-degree reckless burning, a felony, and three counts of reckless endangerment, a gross misdemeanor.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman Jason Givens confirmed that Goellner is an officer who works at the Pacific Highway crossing but did not know how long he had worked there.
Parks said Goellner is a supervisor at that location.
“CBP stresses integrity and professionalism both on and off duty,” Givens said.
He did not immediately know whether Goellner had been or would be suspended or put on probation pending the results of the case.