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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 28, 2009

Teen recovering from gunpowder explosion

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — After gunpowder exploded in his face Saturday, 14-year-old Donald R. Youngs III “is doing well,” according to a nurse at the burn unit of the Westchester Medical Center.

Asked yesterday if Youngs would make a full recovery, the nurse said he would.

Youngs, from Lansingburgh, and two of his friends, a 14-year-old from Guilderland and 15-year-old Dylan Yates, were at Yates’s house in Berne on Saturday. “They were going to go in the woods on our property,” said Dawn Yates, Dylan’s mother. She rents a house at 370 Woodstock Road, between Gippy and Remley roads.

“There’s a lean-to type thing where they were going to hang out,” said Ms. Yates. “They gathered stuff from the barn.”

One of the items the teens gathered was a container of gunpowder, which, Ms. Yates said, she hadn’t known was there. “The landlord makes his own bullets,” she said, and he didn’t know he had left it there.

Seargeant Michael Dedrick, who has been with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department for almost 11 years, said he had never seen a situation like this before. “It’s not very common,” he said. “People who re-load ammunition should see that it’s locked up,” he said.

Dedrick described gunpowder as being “grayish black” with the consistency of cornmeal. “It’s flammable,” he said, adding, “You shouldn’t be setting things on fire, regardless.”

No criminal charges are pending, the sheriff’s department said.

Ms. Yates said of the three teens on Saturday evening, “Their intention was to get a little fire going…Donny dumped a little gunpowder on the chair. When they lit it, it went wrrtt,” she said, indicating it was a quick flash.

“He dumped more on and something on the chair ignited it. It went back to the can of gunpowder,” she said of the path of the flame, “and exploded.” Youngs had been holding the container of gunpowder.

Youngs suffered serious burns to his face, neck, both arms and hands, and parts of his head, said a release from the sheriff’s department.

According to her son’s explanation, no gasoline was used, said Ms. Yates.

Right after the explosion, she said, “Donny first dropped, then took off and started running. He doesn’t know the area and followed a trail…Dylan chased him,” she said as the other boy stamped out the flames. Then both boys ran after Youngs.

Youngs emerged on Joslyn School Road, about three-quarters of a mile away, where a woman driving south found him, the sheriff’s department said.

“Donny asked her, ‘Can you get me to a hospital?’” continued Ms. Yates. “There was no cell service so she took him back to her house and called 911.”

The call came through at 6:20 p.m., according to the sheriff’s department, which responded along with the Albany County Paramedics, the Westerlo Fire Department and Rescue Squad, and the Helderberg Ambulance. Youngs was flown to the Westchester Medical Center by Lifenet 71.

All this while, Ms. Yates was unaware of the explosion, she said.  “The sheriffs pulled into my driveway and asked, ‘Where are the burnt kids?’…I was beside myself…I thought, ‘What in the h—l is going on?’” She found out, “Donny had told them, ‘I’m worried about my friends.’”

Her son suffered first-degree burns on his arm, which she described as “a little purple” but healing fine. The other boy had no injuries, she said.

The mental and emotional wounds are deeper.

“I’ve been sick ever since,” said Ms. Yates. “I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat….I always said, ‘There’s nothing they can get into up here.’ I’ll never say that again. I keep telling my friends, ‘I feel like it’s my fault.’ They all say, ‘Dawn, he’s 15 not 3; they should have known better.’

“But boys being boys…,” she said, her voice trailing off. “They’ve learned a lesson.”

She described the pair of friends left behind after Youngs was airlifted: “They were just a wreck.”

Her son was elated, though, on Sunday when Youngs called and left a message. Then he called again on Tuesday night. “He’s in excellent spirits. He’s a trouper,” she said. “He’s strong. I said, ‘Honey, I’m so sorry this happened.’ He said, ‘It’s not your fault.’”

She said of Youngs’s parents, “They’re missing work, taking trips to Westchester.” She concluded, “We’re just trying to get through it the best we can. Everyone is sticking together.”

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