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Explosion-damaged home demolished

Tony LaRussa
| Friday, Dec. 1, 2006

A demolition crew has started tearing down homes in New Castle that were damaged earlier this week when a nearby house was leveled by an explosion authorities say was a failed suicide attempt.

The first of the homes to come down along the 800 block of Franklin Avenue was next door to the Lawrence County house that exploded early Monday afternoon. The owners of the damaged house -- Catherine Frengel and her husband William Hruska -- were vacationing in Atlantic City, N.J., when the blast occurred.

Authorities say as many as four other homes might have to be razed.

"The city building inspector and engineers hired by the insurance companies still are trying to determine which homes will have to be torn down and which ones might be salvaged," New Castle fire Chief Jeffrey Scrim said.

Gas and electrical service to surrounding homes that are habitable should be restored by today, Scrim said.

Investigators say the explosion was caused when Patrick Henry, 30, who rented the house, tried to kill himself by disconnecting the gas line leading to the hot water tank so he could breathe natural gas.

Henry, who is in Mercy Hospital, Uptown, was upgraded Thursday from critical to serious condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

A couple who went to check on Henry after he failed to show up for work at The Soap Plant in New Castle also were injured. They were outside when the house exploded.

Jared Baker, 30, of New Castle, was released Wednesday from Mercy Hospital.

His wife, Sophie Baker, 21, was taken to West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield. No information about her condition was available.

She works as a massage therapist at a salon in New Castle, but did not have medical insurance.

The salon's owner set up a fund at Sky Bank to accept donations to help cover Baker's expenses. Sky Bank officials said donations can be made at any branch.

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