Officials: Propane tanks source of deadly Brentwood house explosion

Suffolk County Fire and Arson investigator at the

Suffolk County Fire and Arson investigator at the house that exploded on Prospect Drive in Brentwood. (Aug. 15, 2012) (Credit: John Roca)

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The two large propane tanks that exploded outside a Brentwood house were installed without required town permits, officials said Wednesday.

Suffolk police identified the 200-pound tanks as the source of Tuesday's explosion that killed an 18-month-old boy and injured 17 others. But a spokeswoman said investigators were still working to determine what triggered the blast, which left the home a pile of rubble and houses on either side so badly damaged that they were not habitable.

Islip Town officials said Wednesday the homeowner did not have a permit to have the propane tanks on the premises at 12 Prospect Dr. Town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia said inspectors from the town's Division of Code Enforcement didn't even see the tanks at the home during several inspections of the house dating back to 2005. She said a propane tank with more than a 20-pound capacity on residential property requires a permit.

Officials did not say what the propane was being used for, but the propane industry touts the gas as a cheaper alternative for heat and hot water. A 20-pound tank is often used to fuel barbecue grills.

The toddler killed in the explosion was Rah-quan Palmer. His mother, Christina Morgan, 23, and father, Rashamel Palmer, 28, were treated and released.

Two other residents of the house remained hospitalized Wednesday. Irving Justiniano, 63, was in critical condition at Stony Brook University Hospital, and Calvin Harris, 23, was in stable condition at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

Two residents of an adjacent home, Patricia Arnoth, 47, and her son Michael, 24, were treated and released Tuesday.

Michael Ray, 49, a plumber from Islip, was in critical condition at Stony Brook. Police said he was working at the house, but his family said he was just meeting a friend there.

Ray's daughter said he's doing well. Ginger Ray said 30 percent of his body was burned, including his legs and the top of his head.

"He's joking a little," she said.

An insurance company representative, Patricia Salegna-Maqueda, 46, of North Babylon, was inspecting the basement after a flooding claim, her family said. She was in critical condition at Stony Brook University Hospital Wednesday.

Alice Salegna, 75, Salegna-Maqueda's former mother-in-law, said she had been "pretty badly burned" and was sedated. "She is a wonderful person," Salegna said. "She works a lot and takes good care of her children."

Seven Suffolk County police officers and two firefighters were treated for injuries and released from hospitals.

The homeowner of record, Marcel Richard, 62, of Brooklyn, told Newsday during a brief telephone interview Tuesday that he had been fined last year for housing violations. He couldn't be reached Wednesday.

Meanwhile, court documents and town records showed the homeowners were repeatedly accused of operating the single-family home as a rooming house -- allegations that first surfaced in 2003 -- in violation of town code and state law. It was not clear whether the house was still being operated as a rooming house.

Besides the 10 violations against Richard, town code enforcement investigators issued a dozen violations in 2005, when Richard's wife, Monise Richard, 51, was listed as the owner of the home.

The 2005 violations alleged the homeowner illegally added to the rear of the house, lacked permits for a rental property, a cellar bathroom and sink, records show.

The inspector wrote violations for a nonworking smoke detector, leaking plumbing, the lack of a window in a cellar bedroom, litter and debris in the front and rear yards, mold in kitchen cabinets and cellar bathroom, and a nonlocking fence for a rear in-ground pool.

Monise Richard pleaded guilty to four of the 12 violations and paid about $1,200 in fines, according to records.

The town inspector wrote in a report on Nov. 16, 2005, that a man who said he was renting the cellar told the inspector he was paying $350 monthly and had rented the unit for five years. The inspector noted that mold was "about a 1/4 of the far wall in this bathroom."

Town officials said it's not clear whether town inspectors reinspected the property after the 2005 violations. The final disposition in the 2005 case was not immediately available Wednesday.

According to land deeds registered with Suffolk County, the .31-acre-property has changed hands several times since 2001 when Monise Richard purchased the home, which was assessed for $215,000. In January 2006, Monise Richard sold the house to two other people, who then sold it to Marcel Richard 11 months later. That same day, according to the records, he added his wife, Monise Richard, and the same two other people as owners of the property.

Last year, Richard paid $6,598.91 in property taxes.

With Chau Lam, Kery Murakami and Alison Barnwell

Comparing propane to oil and natural gas


Propane

Price: $3.14/gallon, down 7.6 percent from a year ago

Uses: Cooking, heating, indoor motors such as emergency generators, barbecue grills

Amount of energy: 91,330 Btu/gallon

Advantages: Versatile. Does not need municipal, public utility infrastructure. Usable even after decades in tank

Disadvantage: Lower flash point than natural gas but the combustible range is smaller than natural gas. Requires town permits and minimum setbacks for tank locations. Leaks smell like rotten eggs and tend to accumulate in low-lying areas, such as basements, because it is heavier than air.


Oil

Price: $4.07/gallon, up 3.3 percent from a year ago

Uses: Heating

Amount of energy: 140,000 Btu/gallon

Advantages: Does not need municipal, public utility infrastructure. Produces a lot of energy. Very stable.

Disadvantages: Uses limited. Degrades faster than other fuels.


Natural gas

Price: $14.22/thousand cubic feet, up 11.2 percent from a year ago

Uses: Heating, cooking

Amount of energy: 1,025,000 Btu/thousand cubic feet

Advantages: More versatile than oil, less expensive than oil

Disadvantages: Needs municipal, public utility infrastructure. Costs more than propane. Combustible range larger than propane

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