Justin Lake
of Blooming Grove,
Navarro County, Texas


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6/19/2003 Lake Johnny on the spot: Blooming Grove graduate saves life on fiery rig

By LOYD COOK/Daily Sun Staff

Justin Lake was walking away from his job location on the big oil rig floating in the middle of Galveston Bay, headed toward a short break in his work day, when a massive explosion hurled him down a long hall.

Lake, a 22-year-old graduate from Blooming Grove High School in 1999, lives in Huntsville and drives to Galveston to work. Tuesday would be a day like none other.

One worker was killed and four others were hospitalized early Wednesday following a late-night explosion at an offshore gas drilling rig in upper Galveston Bay.

It was about 11 p.m. Tuesday when Lake was monitoring the "mud" in the pit of the facility. A supervisor told him to take a short break, "maybe watch some TV or something since nothing much was going on," Lake said.

The inactivity was short-lived.

As he was walking down the hall inside the massive floating exploration rig, Lake heard the fire alarm go off. He said he knew it wasn't a typical time for a drill. Plus there seemed to be a light, smoky haze in the hallway.

"One minute I was walking and it was all smoky, the next it blew up and I was blown down the hall," Lake said.

Getting up and dusting himself off, Lake saw a fellow mudlogger -- the job description they shared -- crumpled on the floor. His friend, Andy White of Mississippi, would eventually learn that he had a broken hip and arm.

Lake and another oil rig worker grabbed White and carried him to safety, with White moaning in pain all the way.

"I just didn't want to leave a man behind," Lake said of his life-saving efforts. "We had to hurt him a little to get him out, but his leg and stuff will heal."

At noon Wednesday, Lake had yet to wind down enough to think about sleep, still filled with the adrenaline from the events of the evening before. He said he had heard that his friend Andy was in surgery but the crew was, for the most part, pretty lucky.

Andy's broken bones were likely the worst injuries. The other injured workers suffered mainly minor burns, Lake said. He said 21 of the 22 workers on the rig got off safely.

The lone fatality was Ronald Fontenot Sr. of Louisiana, who Lake said was a derrick worker -- the high-wire position of the crew, likely high up in the rig's uppermost reaches when the explosion occurred.

Lake is the son of Navarro County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Johnny Lake and Devonna Lake. His mother is Debra Foster of Madisonville.

Sgt. Lake said his pride in his son knows no bounds.

"He's a hero in my eyes and I know he's a hero in the eyes of the man he and the other guy saved," Johnny Lake said. "I can't tell you how proud of him I am."

The dangers inherent in the work his son does is something that crosses the minds of his parents, his father said.

"We talked about this," Johnny Lake said of discussions with his son. "I told him 'This is the job you chose' and maybe this (accident) will keep them with safety on their minds.

"We're like any other parents. We worry about him, (but) the Lord was definitely looking over him."

While the father cited divine intervention, the son said he now needs no introduction to the other place.

"I think I've got a good idea what hell looks like now," Justin Lake said. "Fire and everything coming through windows. It was damn scary ... damn scary."


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Copyright 2001 Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox