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House explodes in Brentwood, baby boy killed, 14 injured

Rah-Quan Palmer was killed in a Brentwood house

Rah-Quan Palmer was killed in a Brentwood house explosion. (Aug. 14, 2012) Credit: Chris Ware ; Handout

An 18-month-old boy was killed and 14 people were injured Tuesday after an explosion that leveled a Brentwood home, reducing it to a pile of wooden planks and flinging debris through the neighborhood.

Brentwood fire inspector Robert Kuehn said Suffolk's arson squad is investigating whether the explosion was "gas-related."

Kuehn and a spokeswoman for National Grid said the house, 12 Prospect Dr., was not supplied with natural gas.

However, officials said two 200-pound propane tanks were outside the house at the time of the explosion. Neither Kuehn nor other officials said how the propane was being used.

Some of the injuries occurred in the blast itself and others while responding to the disaster, authorities said.

Late Tuesday night, police released the names of some of the injured, identifying Rah-quan Palmer as the toddler who was killed.

Police said his mother, Christina Morgan, 23, and his father, Rashamel Palmer, 28, also were injured in the blast, along with two other residents of the home -- Calvin Harris, 23, and Irving Justiniano, 63.

Two seriously injured were Michael Ray, a plumber with Your Town Cesspool Plumbing & Heating in Central Islip, and Patricia Salegna-Maqueda of State Farm Insurance. Ray, 48, of Islip, and Salegna-Maqueda, 46, of North Babylon, were at the home regarding a flooding claim.

Patricia Arnoth, 47, of 14 Prospect Dr. next door, was injured by the explosion, treated and released. Her son, Michael Arnoth, 24, also of 14 Prospect Dr., was injured in the aftermath and was treated at a local hospital and released.

Two adjacent homes -- 14 Prospect Dr., and 30 Prospect Dr. -- were condemned as a result of the blast, authorities said.

The deafening explosion shook the ground and damaged nearby homes.

"All I saw was rubble. The house was down on the ground. The roof was on the ground," said Henry Sterchi, 62, who lives next door.

He said he heard "a big, gigantic explosion. I'm surprised my ears aren't still ringing."

Looking for answers

The toddler's family was in mourning Tuesday night.

"He was my heart," Palmer said. "I'm grieving my son. It's hard. We're trying to get through this together."

Morgan, the baby's mother, had suffered facial lacerations but was discharged from the hospital Tuesday night, family members said.

The fact that a baby perished in the blast prompted Suffolk homicide detectives to take over the investigation, said Suffolk police Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, commander of the homicide squad. He said Tuesday night that the probe was only just beginning.

"We won't have any answers on causes any time soon," Fitzpatrick said at a news conference at the house. "We'll be at this for quite some time. As far as victims, witnesses, people's purposes for being here, people who've been taken away from the scene -- that's also going to take hours to track them all down, take statements, get their stories."

The injured were taken to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, and Southside Hospital in Bay Shore after the 11:55 a.m. blast, a Suffolk police spokeswoman said.

Two of the three patients at Stony Brook were in serious condition Tuesday night and a third was listed as in critical, said Clinton Weaver, a spokesman for that hospital. It wasn't clear which victims were patients there.

19 left homeless

The explosion could be heard from several blocks away, and its impact was felt several houses down.

Neighbors who live on the block, which is near the Brentwood Country Club and east of Brentwood Parkway, reported hearing a loud boom and then seeing a piece of the house flying into the air, and bloodied, shocked survivors emerging from the rubble.

The explosion caused damage three houses away on either side of the destroyed home, officials said.

The homes on either side of the wrecked house have been deemed unstable and unfit for habitation by Islip Town's chief building inspector, said town spokeswoman Inez Birbiglia.

One house was lifted off its foundation and popped back down again, she said, while the house on the other side had a damaged exterior wall.

In all, 19 people from three houses were homeless and got help from the Red Cross, Birbiglia said.

At least 10 fire departments responded to a chaotic scene, witnesses and officials said.

Carlos Bencosme, 31, who lives five houses away from the destroyed home, said he kept thinking about the image of firefighters pulling the baby from the rubble.

"I thought it was some natural disaster that happened," he said. "I saw them pull the baby out. . . . The image of it just kills me."

The owner of the home, Marcel Richard, was cited last year for operating an illegal rooming house and was fined $3,000 after pleading guilty in June to several housing violations, according to Islip Town officials.

At least 10 people were living in the house at the time of the blast, residents of the home said.

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