CASPER — Chugwater’s only gas station is gone, for now, as authorities investigate why a man drove his car into the business, causing an explosion and fire.
Authorities say 42-year-old John Barberini of Casper drove into the front of Horton’s Corner convenience store and gas station on Sunday evening. Two employees and a customer were inside but no one was injured.
Fire chief Tom Ash told the Casper Star-Tribune that the car was apparently on fire before it crashed into the building.
“We’re still trying to figure out what happened,” Ash said.
Barberini was being held in the Platte County jail Thursday, but no charging documents had been filed against him by midday. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had a lawyer.
Resident Jim Crawford went to the gas station to see the fire and said Barberini approached him, asking him for a blanket. Crawford said Barberini told him he had slipped on ice and crashed into Horton’s and he invited Barberini to his home to warm up. Once inside and in the light, Crawford said he noticed that Barberini had shoe polish on his face and hands and was wearing a ski mask on top of his head.
Crawford eventually told a volunteer firefighter that Barberini was at his house. Sheriff’s deputies and the Wyoming Highway Patrol soon arrived.
Horton’s was the only gas station in the 70 miles between Cheyenne and Wheatland and highway signs on Interstate 25 now warn drivers that there’s no fuel available there.
Locals are feeling the loss too. The gas station was one of just four businesses located in the town of 244 people.
“I’ve told everyone that I will stock what they used to get at Horton’s,” said Barbara Dayton, the owner of the Soda Fountain, one of the remaining three businesses. “We can’t supply all their needs, but we will do our best.”
Horton’s 14 employees are also out of work though the owners have vowed to take care of them until they decide whether to rebuild.
One of the owners, Mike Johnston, said he thinks everyone is still in shock.
“We’re hoping that we will wake up from a bad dream,” he said.