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In Memoriam: Thomas “Tom” DeWille, 76

PLSN Staff • News • November 15, 2019

HUNTSVILLE, AL – Thomas DeWille, founder of Luna Tech, a provider of concert pyro effects for big shows staged by KISS, Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson, The Who, Pink Floyd and other top acts from the 1970s to early 2000’s, died Oct. 21, 2019. He was 76.

DeWille was with Rollan Frank Edwards and Jody Jay Tudor of Prospect Mountain in Cullman County, AL when all three sustained injuries in an attack that included knife injuries and gunshot wounds, according to reports. DeWille and Edwards, 75, were killed and Tudor, 48, was hospitalized.

Authorities arrested Matthew LeWayne Clayton, 30, who had fled the scene, according to local reports. Clayton was detained at the Cullman County Detention Center after being charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Clayton was hospitalized after a suicide attempt on Oct. 22 and died Oct. 26.

News reports quoted Cullman County sheriff Matt Gentry, who noted that the people involved in the incident “were very familiar with each other,” and characterized the incident as a longstanding dispute that turned violent.

DeWille was credited as an innovator in bringing pyrotechnics to indoor concerts, coming up with solutions that allowed for flash powder to be safely transported and for a controller that allowed for the synchronization of pyro effects and musical beats.

“It’s a tragic end to an incredible person with an amazing career,” said longtime business associate David Milly. “He helped change and write the fire marshal pyrotechnics laws in North America and Europe. Indoor shows were his specialty. He almost invented the indoor pyro industry.”

Milly, who joined Luna Tech after completing his studies at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in the 1970’s, noted that the company name came from DeWille’s previous role as a “lunar technician” at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

As a youth growing up in the St. Louis, MO area, DeWille’s interests included electronics, explosives and physics, moving from fireworks displays in his teens to the U.S. Army, where he taught missile electronics and served at NASA’s lunar technology department.

He also ran lights for some local rock shows, and when one of the acts wanted to add pyro, he helped, reducing the risk of explosion during transport by keeping pyro ingredients in separate plastic bags. That idea continued in the form of his product for live events, Pyro Pak.

While marketed his Pyro Paks at a tradeshow, he saw the need to develop a reliable pyro firing system, and came up with a succession of increasingly sophisticated devices with thousands of units sold.

DeWille moved the company from Huntsville to nearby Owens Cross Roads, AL as it grew, developing an expanding array of effects to thrill audiences at shows for KISS and other acts.

Luna Tech, which had grown to over 50 employees and $5 million in sales at its peak, suffered a serious setback from a fatal accident in 1999, and DeWille, who sustained injuries himself from another accident in 2002, left the company and retired the same year. Ultratec Special Effects acquired Luna Tech’s factory and assets in 2007.

DeWille is survived by his husband, Jody Tudor, a sister, nieces and nephews, a great niece, and great nephews, and his ex-wife and former business partner Amanda McLean Nixon. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Thrive Alabama in Tom’s memory.

 

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