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Debris found a half-mile from site of deadly house explosion in Beaver

Gas explosions

Authorities cited a propane gas leak as the likely cause of a fatal, early morning explosion Tuesday in Beaver County. Ray Trautvetter, 74, and his wife, Janet, 69, died shortly before 4 a.m. There have been several major gas explosions in the region, but all have involved natural gas:

Oct. 12: Moon resident Shawn Landa attempts suicide by blowing up his home, police said, destroying it and damaging nine others. Landa is awaiting trial on charges including causing a catastrophe and arson.

Oct. 11: A build-up of natural gas causes an explosion in the basement of a home in Follansbee, W.Va., killing Hannah Mozingo, 13, and injuring her mother, father and sister.

March 5, 2008: Richard Leith, 64, of Trafford dies when the Plum home where he was babysitting his granddaughter exploded. Gianna Pettinato was thrown from the home and suffered a broken leg. The explosion is classified as a transportation accident because it involves natural gas moving through a pipeline. The National Transportation Safety Board said excavation damage to the pipeline likely caused the explosion.

Nov. 27, 2006: A New Castle man causes an enormous explosion in a failed suicide attempt, police said. The explosion damaged 30 homes, 12 of which had to be razed. Patrick Henry pleaded guilty to arson and was sentenced in January 2009 to between seven and 14 years, followed by six years' probation.

March 16, 2005: Moon teens Marc and Chelsea Rateau are hurt when their house explodes. Investigators said a utility crew ruptured a gas line and failed to tell anyone. A federal law was enacted in December 2006 that requires crews to immediately report a gas leak to emergency officials.

— Bill Vidonic

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 7:06 a.m.

An explosion that killed a Beaver County couple early Tuesday and shattered their home sent a neighbor tumbling from his couch and propelled debris that included canceled checks and savings bonds about a half-mile away.

“I don't ever want to see something like that again,” said neighbor Peter Sergi, describing flames that shot from the wreckage along Louthan Road in South Beaver. “That was the loudest explosion I've ever heard.” His family initially thought lightning had struck their house.

Investigators were trying to determine what caused the explosion that killed Ray Trautvetter, 74, and his wife, Janet, 69, shortly before 4 a.m. Both apparently were sleeping when their house blew up, said Deputy Coroner Bill Pasquale. Emergency crews found Ray Trautvetter, who typically slept in a recliner in the living room, outside the remains of the home. His wife's body was found where the house once stood, Pasquale said.

Family members declined to comment.

A propane leak may have triggered the explosion, township police said. No homes in the area have natural gas service. Fire Chief Keith Girting said the Trautvetters had four propane tanks behind the ranch house that were venting gas when rescue crews arrived.

Girting said first responders took precautions because ammunition stored in the house kept exploding. There were no reports of injuries.

Girting, who lives about a half-mile away, said he heard the explosion.

“This isn't supposed to happen out here,” Girting said.

Investigators have a 50-50 chance of determining the cause of the blast, said Richard Meier, a fire and explosion analyst at fire investigation company John A. Kennedy & Associates in Sarasota, Fla. Factors include whether gas leaked inside or outside the house and whether the explosion destroyed key evidence, he said.

“The closer to the point of ignition, the less things are moved around,” Meier said. “Think of a fuel gas explosion as a wave shaped as a sphere, getting stronger and faster as it moves away from the center. Things near the point of ignition may not be moved at all, while the outside walls and ceiling may be completely blown out.”

Based on a description of the damage, Meier said the blast was “a high-order explosion” in which “things are turned into matchsticks.”

Propane or butane caused 28 percent of house fires between 2007 and 2011, according to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association; natural gas ignited 54 percent of more than 20,000 house fires annually during the period.

A small spark can ignite gas, Meier said. A sulfur additive gives propane and natural gas a “rotten egg” smell, but a leak outside a home may be undetected, Meier said.

Girting said residents along Route 51 about a half-mile away reported finding debris.

Tufts of insulation fluttered down from trees, resembling a light snowfall.

Ray Trautvetter's pay stubs from the former Babcock & Wilcox plant in Beaver Falls littered the neighborhood, along with canceled checks dating to the 1960s, Uno game cards, utility bills and family photos.

Janet Trautvetter worked as an Eat'n Park server for 25 years, company officials said, most recently at its Center restaurant.

“She was just a model individual,” said Jeff Dengler, the restaurant's general manager. “She was the go-to person, from, ‘Hey, I need advice,' to ‘Hey, I need a hug.' ”

The Trautvetters were married for 53 years, according to Eat'n Park. They had three children, JR, Kerri and Tami, and seven grandchildren. A great-grandchild arrived in January.

The explosion broke windows on neighbor Mark Ple-vel's home and knocked out air conditioners. Plevel, 38, said that when he moved to the neighborhood five years ago, the Trautvetters brought over a Bundt cake to welcome him. He and Ray Trautvetter sometimes talked about their common interest in hunting.

“They were really nice people,” he said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or




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