‘We didn’t know he was home’: Parents of 19-year-old killed in house explosion remember their son
Sep 24, 2023, 11:16 PM | Updated: Sep 25, 2023, 10:19 am
ELK RIDGE, Utah County — The family of eight who lived in the house that exploded Friday lost their brother and son, Eric Cheney.
The Utah County Sheriff’s Office was still investigating the explosion Sunday night. Investigators said they believe the explosion was an accident, but could not confirm the cause.
“We didn’t know he was home,” said Eric’s mother, Julie Cheney. “I don’t even think I’ve processed it.”
She said she and her daughter, Anna Cheney were on the opposite side of the house from where Eric was. When the explosion happened, she said they ran out the front door.
“We came running out and there was so much damage everywhere…stuff was everywhere, stuff had blown open and fallen down and there was glass, broken things, insulation, it was everywhere,” Julie Cheney said. “All the doors had blown open.”
Neighbor Mike Houghton felt the explosion blocks away.
“The windows just rattled, just a crazy boom,” he said.
Houghton said he walked toward the plume of smoke he could see and met up with Julie Cheney.
“One of the neighbors and Julie were just getting around the side of the house to turn off the gas, because we could smell gas,” Houghton said. “She realized Eric was missing and her heart sank.”
Julie Cheney said Eric’s body was hidden from her sight. She said people walking by at the time informed her of what happened, and where he was at the time of the explosion.
“It blew him into our garage and then our garage door fell on him, and the garage ceiling, some of it fell down, so I guess I consider it a heaven’s blessing, because otherwise, if that hadn’t fallen, then my memory of him would be really different,” Julie Cheney said.
Evidence of the disaster was scattered across the Cheney’s yard and up their street.
“The two vehicles that were parked in front, the Volkswagen looked like it had hit the back of a semi at 50 miles an hour, just smashed all the way up to the windshield,” Houghton said. “The debris was all out in the street. There was debris clear over on the golf course.”
The Cheneys’ neighbors and members of their ward came to clean up the debris Saturday.
“They took everything and they cleaned it so that I wouldn’t have to see anything,” Julie said. “I want to be home. We have so many happy memories here. And I want to be here where I remember, I remember him in the morning, I remember him after work, I remember him at nighttime.”
The family chooses to focus on what reminds them of Eric.
“Eric was the type of kid to do everything,” his mother said. “He was on the tennis team, varsity, top player, he was on varsity volleyball, one of the lead players, he did moto-cross just for fun…he did snowboarding.”
Julie Cheney said the star athlete also had a sharp memory and knew everyone in the community.
“I could ask him, ‘Who was that?’ And he’d be like, ‘Oh, remember mom? That’s this person, and here’s their parents, and this is their dog’s name,'” she said.
John Cheney, Eric’s father, said Eric and his five siblings were tightly-knit.
“He really enjoyed spending time with his brothers and sisters, even Adam who’s seven years younger than him,” John said.
“He would let me do stuff with him and his friends, every time we went somewhere,” Adam said.
John Cheney said he’ll miss conversations around the kitchen table with his son.
“Eric has an incredible sense of humor,” he said. “To not have him lightening the mood and teasing a little bit, we’ll definitely miss him.”
The parents said their son had just started a new job in construction. They said he was also considering a church mission.
“He was just living life, but he was here when the explosion happened,” Julie Cheney said.
A GoFundMe was created by a friend of Eric’s to help the family pay for property damage and his funeral costs.
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