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2 Waukegan explosion victims identified

AB Specialty Silicones in Waukegan after Friday night's explosion. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Authorities have identified two additional victims of Friday’s massive explosion at the AB Specialty Silicones plant in Waukegan.

The Lake County coroner’s office on Tuesday released the identities of 53-year-old Byron H. Biehn and 57-year-old Jeff Cummings, whose bodies were found after the blast. Biehn lived in Brighton Township, Wisconsin, while Cummings lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Autopsies for both men were performed on Monday, but a final determination on their causes of death is pending toxicology testing and further investigation, according to Lake County Coroner Dr. Howard Cooper.

“We are heartbroken by this tragedy,” Biehn’s family wrote in a statement released via their attorneys on Tuesday. “Byron was a beloved husband, father, son (in-law), brother (in-law), Godfather, uncle, and friend to many. We are so very grateful for the outpouring of prayers and support for Byron and our family.”

Of the nine people who were in the building when the fire broke out, three were reported missing at the time of the incident. One was found and recovered Saturday morning, one was recovered Sunday afternoon and the third is still missing, Cooper said. Crews are still working to recover the final victim as of Tuesday.

A fourth victim, 29-year-old Allen Stevens, was removed from the initial scene in an ambulance Friday night and not counted among the missing, authorities said. He died in Maywood’s Loyola Medical Center burn unit Saturday.

The exact cause of the explosion is still undetermined, Lenzi said, but officials have ruled out foul play and are officially declaring the incident an accident. Lenzi said plant personnel have been extremely compliant and helpful in assisting with the investigation, but, due to the precarious state of the building, the team has only been able to investigate half of the structure.

OSHA and the state fire marshal will continue to investigate what Lenzi describes as an “active, ongoing scene,” and a federal chemical safety specialist will be arriving soon.