Firefighters from Lewis County Fire District 5 battle a car fire right next to large propane tank at Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers in Napavine. The fire was started when a drunk driver ran into the propane tank in the auctioneers parking lot. The driver escaped uninjured from the vehicle and was later taken custody.

Winlock Man Arrested on DUI Charge After Fiery Crash at Ritchie Bros.

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

Firefighters rush to help battle a car fire alongside a large propane tank in the Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers parking lot on Monday afternoon in Napavine.
Firefighters rush to help battle a car fire alongside a large propane tank in the Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers parking lot on Monday afternoon in Napavine.

A Winlock man was arrested Monday afternoon on suspicion of driving under the influence after plowing into a 500-gallon propane tank at Ritchie  Bros Auctioneers in Napavine and causing a large fire.

Stephen G. Kamhout, 56, of Winlock, was arrested on suspicion of DUI. Kamhout received a head injury and was admitted into Providence Centralia Hospital.

Kamhout told deputies he thought he was driving home on North Military Road at the time of the crash, said Chief Deputy Dusty Breen of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.

Law enforcement and fire personnel responded at 1:49 p.m. Monday afternoon to reports of the crash and subsequent explosion in the auction business’s parking lot.

Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza was at the scene and reported that a DUI investigation was ongoing as firefighters worked to control the blaze.

Deputies arrived to find the vehicle, identified as a 2003 Ford Expedition, crashed into one of three 500-gallon propane tanks.

Firefighters were able to control the fire before it spread to the building or to another propane tank.

Craig Mills, regional operations manager for Ritchie Bros., said staff at the facility evacuated the building during the response.

Mills said everything was running smoothly at the business that day until the crash.

“I heard a boom. It sounded like it came from upstairs,” he said.

Mills went upstairs to investigate. He didn’t find the cause until he looked out the window.

“From one of our VIP lounges I saw flames dancing about 20 feet high,” he said.

Mills ran outside to investigate and saw the driver, Kamhout, walking away from the crash. Mills and other staff kept Kamhout on the scene until deputies arrived.

“When they contacted him it appeared he was under the influence of intoxicants,” Breen said.

Deputies conducted a field sobriety test and took him into custody.

Mills said the driver seemed very disoriented.

“How he impacted and left the flames, with the size of flames I saw …  is miraculous,” Mills said.

Kamhout was taken to Providence Centralia Hospital before being booked into the Lewis County Jail as a precaution due to his confusion, Breen said. He was not booked into the Lewis County Jail due to his injury, and is being referred to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office for charges.

Mills said the only damage was to the propane tank.