An 18-year-old man with special needs died and two others were seriously injured after an explosion at a Medina Village Apartments building early Thursday morning.
The call about a fire came at 3:18 a.m. at 451 Springbrook Drive. Medina Fire Chief Bob Painter said about a quarter of the four-unit, stand-alone building was “blown apart” with nearly half on fire.
The explosion caused debris from walls and an upper floor to collapse onto the autistic man, who was bedridden in the living room. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A machine was used to move debris to extract the victim, Painter said.
The 18-year-old’s parents were transported to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland for severe burns after trying to save their son, Painter said. One parent was reported to have 50 percent burns and the other 80 percent. Their names were not immediately released by authorities.
“It’s a tragedy,” apartment manager Connie Barr said. “They’re part of our family.”
Eight families with a total of 18 people were displaced by the damage.
Four people were treated at the scene for minor injuries. One man fell on ice trying to get out of the building, Painter said.
The fire was “knocked down and contained” within 40 minutes, Painter said.
The Medina Fire Department was assisted by Medina Township Fire Department. The Sharon Township Fire Department was called in to relieve firefighters at about 8 a.m., Painter said. Many of the Medina firefighters were on the scene throughout the morning.
“The building is a complete loss,” Medina Police Lt. Dave Birckbichler said.
Cause under investigation
Firefighters, along with investigators from the Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office, were on scene throughout the day, along with workers from Columbia Gas to investigate the cause.
Walls were bowed about a foot out of plumb, Painter said.
City of Medina Building Official Dan Gladish was called to assist the fire marshals to trace the gas line in Unit 103, where the family resided.
“All indications show it was a gas explosion,” Gladish said. “But they’re still investigating.”
Terry Bilek, maintenance director at the complex, said no gas work has been done in the area within the last year. He said Columbia Gas does come for service frequently as new residents move into the apartment complex.
“This is a surprise,” he said. “We’ve had no reports of a gas leak.”
Bilek said Unit 103 recently received a new furnace and the complex received a new water line. He said neither construction project was related to the explosion.
The apartment building is made up of four 970-square-foot units, Bilek said.
Gladish said the upper concrete floor that separates units is about 6 inches thick.
“Those buildings are built like tanks,” he said.
Matthew Hodar, 22, of Medina, said he was dozing on his couch at around 3 a.m. Thursday when he heard a loud explosion. He said he had just finished a long shift at his job in the steel industry.
“I didn’t know what it was at first,” Hodar said.
He ran out of his top-level apartment and saw that the ceiling was collapsed and “everyone’s door was blown in.”
Hodar said he heard people screaming and he checked on neighbors, making sure they were safe.
He said he ran through the building to see what was happening and saw a fire in a ground-level apartment. “At that point, I ran upstairs because I have two cats,” Hodar said. “I got one of them. I got back outside and by that time there was so much smoke I wasn’t going back inside.”
Within five minutes of the explosion, Hodar said flames were shooting higher than nearby trees.
Hodar said that he knew of at least one victim, the bedridden special needs man. He said that the parents got out of the building with injuries, but went back in to save their son. They were unsuccessful.
“They are really nice people,” Hodar said.
After the explosion, Hodar said the scene was “very” chaotic with people running to safety.
Hodar said he has lived at Medina Village for almost a year, adding it is a “great place” to live.
“We won’t know until (investigators) make a decision,” he said.
The next step for Hodar is moving back in with his parents, although he said that isn’t the case for everyone who was displaced.
Charities provide assistance
The American Red Cross arrived at the scene Thursday morning, supplying firefighters with food and water, as well as working to get housing arrangements completed for those displaced.
“We have been out on site this morning providing affected families with emergency financial assistance, shelter, food and clothing,” said Mary Williams, regional communications officer.
Painter said, “There are eight units here that (residents) won’t be going back to.”
The Medina chief added that additional water damage was caused to nearby units when six to eight inches of water flooded a building north of the engulfed building.
Williams said families who needed emergency shelter would be housed in a local hotel.
“We have a lot of agreements in place with hotel chains,” Williams said, adding that “each person’s recovery looks different.”