On November 27, 2006, a thirty-year-old troubled man named Patrick A. Henry, in an apparent suicide attempt, ignited an open gas line in his rented house at #833 Franklin Avenue in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, two of his friends, newlywed couple Jared and Sophie Baker, had just arrived at his house to check on him. They were in his yard when a massive explosion rocked the house at 12:30pm. Henry’s house was instantly destroyed and flying debris devastated the surrounding area. As many as thirty homes were damaged around the intersection of Franklin Avenue and Almira Street. Henry’s home and another next door at #831 were engulfed in flames as emergency personnel arrived at the chaotic scene. Henry and the Baker’s were critically injured (suffering from serious burns) and airlifted to hospitals in Pittsburgh. Another two people were slightly injured and treated locally.
The damage to the area was extensive and estimated at $1.3 million. Several families were left homeless and required assistance from the Red Cross. The house at #831 was a particular cause of concern as the owners, Bill and Katie Hruska, were unaccounted for. Trained cadaver dogs searched the rubble, but it was soon determined that the Hruska’s were away in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The area looked as though a tornado ripped through it and was blocked off to traffic for several months as assessment teams went to work. In addition to Henry’s home another small building behind it, others at #824, 827, 829, 831, 835, and 836 Franklin Avenue, and #917 Almira Street were all demolished and cleared away in the coming months. Many others underwent repair. All of the victims of the blast, including Henry, recovered after various periods of hospitalization. Sophie Baker spent two months in the hospital, including being placed in medically-induced coma for a few weeks to help her deal with the pain of several skin graft surgeries. An outpouring of support and financial donations for the Baker’s helped them deal with the ordeal and the expensive medical bills that followed.
Henry, facing harsh punishment, accepted a plea bargain in November 2008. Two months later he was sentenced to spend 7-14 years in prison, followed by six years probation, and to pay a fine of over $781,000. If you visit the area today you will hardly notice anything unusual. A few homes were rebuilt, but grass-covered vacant lots serve as a reminder of where houses once stood at the corner of Franklin and Almira.
An exposed cellar where a house once stood. (Dec 2006)
A few weeks after the explosion boarded-up windows were the norm no matter where you looked. (Dec 2006)
The huge hole at the site of the explosion – where the house at #833 Franklin Ave once stood. (Dec 2006)
My grandmother (I miss ya!) Irene (LaPatka) DeMarc strolls alongs Franklin Ave taking in the damage. (Dec 2006)
The marking “ABD,” signifying an abandoned house, was visible at several homes still standing along Franklin Ave. (Dec 2006)
The exposed cellar of a demolished house. (Dec 2006)