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Propane blast victim ID’d; woman searches for family history

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Updated: October 12, 2013 6:20AM



LOWELL — Michelle Northcutt Nagle can’t seem to wrap her mind around the devastation of what was her childhood home.

“It’s surreal,” she said Tuesday afternoon, scavenging through the debris field for remnants of her family’s history.

An explosion Monday evening at the house at 108 E. State Road 2 in unincorporated Lake County killed 43-year-old Victor Strain, a neighbor.

Strain was found in the basement of the home around midnight Tuesday after rescue workers searched the scene for several hours, according to Lowell Fire Chief Clint Gorbell.

Lowell Firefighter Edwin Comacho, a three-year veteran, sustained a minor knee injuring while fighting the blaze.

“Our investigation is continuing but we have ruled out anything of a suspicious nature,” Gorbell said.

Strain was apparently checking the vacant home for its owner for a gas leak when the explosion occurred.

Nagle said Strain was a family friend who was keeping an eye on the house for her father, who resides in a nursing home.

“It’s tragic to lose your family home and all the material things. It’s unspeakable to have somebody caught up and lose their life. It’s just heartbreaking,” Nagle said, fighting back tears.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said the Indiana State Fire Marshall and Lowell Volunteer Fire Department have determined the blast Monday night was caused by the propane storage tank for the vacant home.

The blast scattered debris like confetti. Almost nothing of the home remains in one piece. The stove was seen lodged in a tree more than 20 feet above the foundation. A shredded mattress can be seen high in another tree. Shingles, boards and gutters dangled from the branches as investigators worked Tuesday afternoon at the scene. Pieces of debris such as a sliver of a CD, the housing for a recessed light and a shattered keyboard are among the few identifiable objects on the ground.

“To see things up in the trees and in back of the cornfield is just unbelievable,” Nagle said.

Buncich said Strain apparently thought he saw something at the back of the home and went to check on it. When he opened the door the blast occurred.

“The force of the explosion was very strong,” Buncich said.

The explosion led to a fire that also destroyed the home to the west, at 102 East State Road 2, which also was unoccupied at the time. Officals said the propane tank was capable of holding several hundred gallons.



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