NTSB investigate cut gas line in Youngstown building explosion (2024)

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said a cut gas line was found in a basem*nt area where workers had been before the explosion of the Realty Building in downtown Youngstown.

The NTSB on-site

Teams from the NTSB walked around the explosion site Thursday morning, looking into the building and at all of the debris.

The explosion happened just before 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Realty Building on E. Federal Street, killing a man and injuring seven other people.

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“The damage to the building is devastating,” said Tom Chapman, an NTSB board member. “It’s difficult to get a perspective from the photos and the video that you’ve seen but when you are up close to it and you see how deep it goes down into the basem*nt area, and how much damage there was, and the size of the structures that were damaged, it gets your attention.”

The NTSB said the main gas line runs in front of the building, but the problem was with another line.

The below-ground service line that was pressurized but not actively servicing the building was found to be cut, according to Chapman.

“This was a service line coming off the main line,” he said. “It was a service line leading to the property but it was not servicing. It was, essentially, abandoned. It was not servicing the property at the time but it was found subsequently to be pressurized, meaning it had gas in it.”

It was discovered after the explosion.

Chapman said they’re investigating to determine whether third-party work to clear out old infrastructure may have led to the explosion.

“A possible third-party cut to the pressurized service line is a central focus of our investigation to determine the cause of the gas release and subsequent explosion.”

He does not believe that there was anything nefarious surrounding the cut line.

“In this case, we have a long-standing concern about third-party work in the vicinity of the gas line. That’s a major element in this investigation,” Chapman said.

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The NTSB said it does not investigate all natural gas explosions but it does focus attention on those that might have particular impact, in terms of safety.

The investigative team is also looking into gas line failure and system integrity management, as well as emergency response. They will be on scene for about a week and a preliminary report is expected to be issued in 30 days. Final reports may be released in 12 to 24 months.

The NTSB will hold a second media briefing at 7 p.m. Friday at the Holiday Inn on South Avenue in Boardman.

Investigating what happened

The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that it would be taking the lead in the investigation and that “Enbridge Gas Ohio likely will be asked to assist as a party to the investigation.”

“We would like to thank the City of Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Fire Chief Barry Finley, and all first responders for their quick action and leadership in responding to this event,” the agency said in a news release.

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Deputy Director of Public Works Charles Shasho said the owners of the building will be having a structural engineer come to determine if the building is structurally sound. Shasho said he was not sure how long it would take for that to happen, but he speculated an inspection probably won’t take place until the investigation into the explosion is completed.

Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Finley said no one will be allowed back in the Realty Building until it is confirmed it is structurally sound.

The only other building closed because of the explosion is the neighboring Stambaugh Building, home to both the DoubleTree Hotel and Bistro 1907 restaurant, because of the potential risk that the Realty Building could collapse.

“Basically, it’s facing to the northbound direction toward the hotel. So if there were a collapse, it would certainly be in a hazardous debris area,” Shasho said.

A sign was posted on the front door of the hotel saying the hotel was closed, and some people who had hotel reservations there found their reservations through mid-June had been canceled.

Finley said until he’s assured the buildings are safe, they’ll remain closed.

For now, the focus going forward will be piecing together surveillance video of the explosion and witness statements to determine just what happened and who was in the building at the time.

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The man who died in the explosion, 27-year-old Akil Drake, was an employee of the Chase Bank branch in the building. He was found in the basem*nt of the building at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Finley said.

Finley said he did not want to leave the scene Tuesday night until the man’s body was recovered.

“We were not going to leave until we found him. We were going to be there as long as it took.”

According to officials at Youngstown State University, Drake was a graduate of the university.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Akil’s family and loved ones during this incredibly difficult time. We also extend our heartfelt condolences to those who were injured and their families, as well as to all those affected by this incident.

Rebecca Rose, YSU director of marketing and communications

Finley said another woman who had been believed to be missing was found at an emergency room in Boardman, registered under another name.

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As of Thursday evening, there were only three patients who remained in the hospital, according to Mercy Health. They are described to be in stable condition. Four others were treated and released.

Finley and Brown expressed their sympathies to the family of the man who died and those who were injured. Both also praised the police, firefighters and paramedics who were called to Tuesday’s explosion. Brown also thanked neighboring departments that responded as part of mutual aid.

Finley said he was especially proud of the city fire crews who were called. He said at one point, every city firefighter on duty was on scene, along with others from several neighboring departments, pulling bodies out of the rubble and searching the rest of the 13-story building and its nearly two dozen apartments.

Video from an officer’s body camera showed the moments when rescuers got on the scene and began pulling people from the building.

“They went room by room, floor by floor, to make sure everyone got out of that building, and they did it twice,” Finley said.

What we know about the explosion

The explosion happened just before 3 p.m. Tuesday. Crews evacuated people from the top floors, where there are apartments. Chase Bank is located at the bottom of the building.

JPMorgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon and CEO of Consumer and Community Banking Marianne Lake sent the following note to employees on Thursday:

“A gas explosion in a building with our branch in downtown Youngstown, Ohio, has taken the life of Relationship Banker Akil Drake. We are devastated by the news and extend our deepest condolences to Akil’s loved ones during this incredibly difficult time. Our thoughts are also with the Youngstown community, especially our employees seriously injured by the blast. We’re focused on supporting them and Akil’s family now and through their recovery.

Akil was a special member of the Chase team. Hired in February 2021 as an Associate Banker and promoted to Relationship Banker last year, he was loved by his team and customers. A Youngstown State University graduate, Akil was very active in the community and devoted much of his free time to volunteering and brainstorming ways to make Youngstown a better place.”

Chase Bank

Those in the area reported hearing a loud boom that shook buildings, followed by smoke and the smell of gas.

“I heard the boom, and I looked up and I could see dark smoke coming out of the side of the Chase Bank building… but it was such a really strong, strong boom, you know, I blurted out, ‘Oh my God,'” said Debora Flora, executive director of Mahoning CountyLand Bank, who works downtown.

Gas has been shut off to the entire block as a safety precaution, according to a spokesperson for Enbridge Gas Ohio.

A representative for YO Properties 47, LLC, which owns the building, released the following statement to WKBN on Wednesday:

“Everyone at YO Properties 47, LLC, the owner of the Realty Building, is shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries resulting from the explosion that occurred. Their heartfelt sympathy and condolences are extended to the family of the young man who lost his life.

YO Properties 47, LLC, in cooperation with the relevant governmental agencies, is investigating as to how and why this explosion happened. Appropriately, pending this investigation, YO Properties 47, LLC will not be making any further public statements.”

YO Properties 47, LLC

Traffic impacts

NTSB investigate cut gas line in Youngstown building explosion (5)

Police have blocked off a perimeter around the area, blocking people and vehicles from going nearby. Drivers should avoid the area.

West Federal Street is closed between S. Hazel Street and S. Walnut Street. Wick Avenue is closed between W. Boardman Street and W. Commerce Street. N. Champion Street is also closed between E. Federal Street and E. Commerce Street.

Residents of International Towers are allowed to return home. County Government buildings have also been cleared and reopened.

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The Western Reserve Transit Authority (WRTA) is open and buses are running following disrupted service Tuesday due to the explosion. Riders can find maps and schedules on WRTA’s website at WRTAonline.com.

Businesses in the surrounding area that may have lost power were back open Wednesday. The Mocha House opened its doors once the utilities were turned back on. It’s been a downtown staple for over four years and felt it was important to resume operations.

“It means a lot. It’s nice that we were able to open up to the community just to help. We have donated some things to the community, and it makes me happy that we are doing that, said Isabella Hofmann, a spokesperson for the Mocha House.

Mocha House sent a sandwich tray to the emergency room treating patients last night and plans to take boxed lunches to first responders still on the scene Wednesday.

Reactions from witnesses, residents of building

View photos from downtown Youngstown, Ohio explosion

First News spoke with several people who were downtown when the explosion happened, as well as those who lived in the apartments that were evacuated.

Construction workers were doing work in the basem*nt at the time. They heard a hissing noise from natural gas and called 911, racing out of the building minutes before it exploded.

Joe Guerrieri owns a business downtown and was eating at a restaurant when he heard the explosion, immediately rushing to people’s aid.

“Grabbed water and ran down there and saw a gentleman with a bunch of glass and cuts all over the place. Tried to wash him off. Checked out this lady that had a pretty severe leg injury,” he said.

One man who lives on the third floor was inside at the time of the explosion. He got trapped in a stairwell and it took fire crews over 15 minutes to dig him out.

“When I got to the lobby, there was kind of like a metal gate door that had been bowed in, and the rubble from the lobby… the broken-up rock and marble had jammed itself so I was there with my cat in a carrier kind of trying to push the door open,” said resident Justin Reynolds.

Tracey Winbush was working downtown. She lives in the tower with her 94-year-old mother, who had to be rescued.

“They had to carry her down 10 flights of stairs — her and my dog. We’re gonna have to start over again; we don’t know where,” she said.

She said the people of Youngstown are resilient, however.

“We made steel, now we’re made of steel because what we did not burn off. We stayed and we lasted, so we’ll be OK,” she said.

By Thursday morning, crews rescued all of the pets that were still inside but were still working to get out one cat.

Helping those impacted

The Red Cross was at the Covelli Centre, assisting the displaced residents of the building for a time on Tuesday evening. A representative from the Red Cross said all residents from the building next door are able to return to their homes.

There were 25 to 30 residents from the building who were directly impacted by the explosion, the Red Cross reports. The organization is working with property management to let residents know the Red Cross can provide assistance should they need it.

Carlos Thompson works at Bistro 1907 in the hotel and showed up for work Wednesday morning to find out that it was closed.

Even though the day didn’t start well, Thompson said he was thankful he and his girlfriend were still around to see it.

“We had just left there, not even 45 minutes ago. I said. ‘Man, oh man, oh man, thank God for that.’ Because if we would have gotten down there a little later, she probably would have still been in there,” he said.

Janette Bowers is from Indiana, teaching a course to local students who were staying at the DoubleTree.

“Well I was teaching at the time at the Choffin School of Nursing and then came back and everything was shut off, so didn’t have any contact with hotel staff so found my way to a hotel,” she said.

Her belongings are still inside the DoubleTree.

Bowers said she did get help from those at Choffin, and she is grateful for all of the support.

“The administration and faculty at Choffin have been wonderful to me. They have brought me clothes and taken care of me, wonderful kindness. The hotel folks that accepted me last night have been so kind to me, have made calls for me. This community has really stepped forward and been kind to us who are sort of stuck,” she said.

The Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board is offering emergency counseling services to help individuals cope with the emotional aftermath of this incident through Compass Family and Community Services. Those needing assistance can call 330-782-5664. Services will be available 8 a.m. through 4 p.m. with walk-ins at 535 Marmion Avenue.

“We’ve reached out to our local mental health at the county and talked to them to reach out to Chase and talk to their staff. They’ve reached out to us, and we’re gonna try to make sure that we provide them with all the support and services that we can,” said Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown.

Commissioners remember victims

The Mahoning County Commissioners called this week a somber time in the Valley following Tuesday’s deadly explosion.

Commissioners started their weekly meeting this morning with a moment of silence for all the victims of the deadly blast, including Akil Drake.

They also invited Pastor Kenny Simon of New Bethel Baptist Church to offer prayer for all involved.

“I think experiences like this kind of draw us closer together, and the end of the prayer I gave, I would pray that this experience draws us closer to Him, and closer to each other,” Simon said.

Commissioners urged the community to pray for those impacted as well as those who stepped up to help the victims.

“I want to personally thank not only Pastor Simon, but all the city officials, safety services, law enforcement, and let’s not forget the trauma nurses that were attending to those who got severely injured,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti.

Check back here for updates on this developing story.


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Laurel Stone and Madison Meeker contributed to this report.

NTSB investigate cut gas line in Youngstown building explosion (2024)
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