Two Men In Oregon Killed By Tank

| by James Brannigan
Austin Tyler Lee.Austin Tyler Lee.

Two men in Oregon died after the World War II-era tank they were in exploded.

Todd Preston, 51, and Austin Tyler Lee, 22, who died on Oct. 27 inside a 1944 Buick "Hellcat" M18 tank destroyer. Paramedics were quick to respond, but the two died at the scene near Bend, Oregon. The men were said to have been attempting to fire a round from the tanks's cannon when an explosion occurred inside the tank

Preston had bought the tank in 1999 for $60,000 and used it for fundraisers, charity events and video game commercials, Oregon Live reports. He told The Wall Street Journal, "Everyone knows what a Sherman tank looks like. A tank destroyer looks similar but has thinner armor and an open top turret, for greater speed and visibility. The Hellcat was the fastest tracked vehicle of any kind during World War II, with a top speed of about 55 mph."

The tank destroyer was at the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association shooting range when the explosion occurred. Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said a film crew was there and was filming at the time of the explosion. Preston had wanted to make a promotional video of the vehicle's cannon being fired. The video is being used for the investigation.

The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office and explosives experts from the Oregon State Police performed the initial investigation. Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were called in to assist.

This was not the first time the tank destroyer had been used. In a news piece done by Oregon's KTVZ-TV in 2011, Preston's tank destroyer Rachel, named after his wife, is seen driving around and firing its main cannon at a field in Lone Pine, Oregon. The showcase was also captured by the Discovery channel for its now defunct TV series "Combat Cash," reports KGW.

Preston served as a board director and convention chairman for the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.

Source: The OregonianNBC Local News KGW, KTVZ Central Oregon / Photo credit: Austin Lee's Facebook via KGW