A propane gas leak might have caused an explosion that killed a couple and leveled their Beaver County home early Tuesday, authorities said.
Ray Trautvetter, 74, and his wife, Janet, 69, probably were asleep when the blast at 419 Louthan Road in South Beaver occurred about 4 a.m., deputy county coroner William Pasquale said.
Township police Chief Dan McLean said the explosion was still under investigation, but no foul play was involved. A neighbor said the pair used propane for cooking.
Fire and insurance investigators spent the afternoon and evening searching through scattered debris where a one-story ranch home once stood.
Almost two dozen family members gathered at an RV across the street Tuesday evening, as they consoled each other and waited for answers. A constant stream of neighbors and friends brought condolences, hugs and trays of food. Numerous relatives declined to comment.
Mrs. Trautvetter’s manager at Eat’n Park, where she worked as a server, said the couple had been married for 53 years and had three children, seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Earlier this year, Mrs. Trautvetter celebrated her 25th anniversary at Eat’n Park. Jeff Dengler, general manager of the Center location, called her an “icon” who was first to lend a hand and knew all the morning regular customers by name — and some by their orders.
“But more important than all that, she was really” a great person, he said. In addition to the relatives with whom she spent most of her spare time, he added, “her second family here is certainly hurting.”
Mark Plevel, 38, described the husband and wife as good neighbors who brought him a cake when he moved in across the street five years ago. He recalled sitting on their porch and chatting with Mr. Trautvetter, a retired Babcock and Wilcox Co. steelworker, about dogs, hunting and the older man’s gun collection.
“His mind was sharp as a tack,” Mr. Plevel said.
The explosion blew some siding off his house and an air-conditioning unit out a window. Windows in his barn nearby also were shattered.
Hours after the blast, Mr. Plevel picked family photos off the ground and tried to salvage personal belongings that had scattered through the neighborhood, some up to a mile away.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It makes you appreciate every day you got.”
Various possessions including checks, saving bonds, books and Uno playing cards littered part of the road and neighboring yards. Some items were unscathed; others were unrecognizable.
“There’s stuff that’s not even touched. There was very little fire. The explosion pushed out and got stuff away in time, before the ignition,” South Beaver fire Chief Keith Girting said. He said crews had located one stove and parts of a second.
Part of the roof was stuck in nearby treetops and fragments of the front door landed in a neighbor’s yard.
“It’s just heartbreaking seeing their personal artifacts scattered everywhere,” said neighbor Stefanie Sergi, 37.
Ms. Sergi said she watched the flames engulf the house and shoot up above the trees. Her son, Anthony, 21, grappled with the fact that he couldn’t help.
“It’s just sad that you’re right there in front of it, but you can’t do nothing about it,” he said.
Some neighbors in the rural township about 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh said they mistook the powerful blast for a lightning strike. It shook cabinets at a mobile home community down the road and broke a light fixture at a house about 800 feet away, they said. Asked what the explosion sounded like, Mr. Sergi said, “World War III.”
Lexi Belculfine: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. First Published July 15, 2014 12:00 AM