Explosion destroys home, kills ex-officer

Investigators recover body from rubble

March 31, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

A retired Baltimore police officer was killed early yesterday when an explosion ripped through his Arbutus rowhouse, blowing out the back wall, cracking the brick facade and damaging two adjoining homes.

Late last night, Baltimore County fire investigators found the body of John B. Elton, 56, in the ruins of his home at 5610 Braxfield Road, where the blast and a fire erupted shortly after 3 a.m. Neighbors said Elton's wife, a nurse, was at work at an area hospital at the time.

The investigators were prevented from entering the house for more than eight hours until public works crews made the building safe by removing the roof and the entire faM-gade with heavy machinery, said Baltimore County Fire Capt. Glenn A. Blackwell.

Blackwell said that county fire investigators and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents found black powder behind the house but were unsure if the powder caused the explosion. He said it might be several days before fire investigators determine the cause of the blast.

Elton's neighbors said he was a Civil War re-enactor and used the black powder in antique weapons.

Battalion Chief John Kuruc called the blast a "major explosion" that ignited a two-alarm fire. The roofs and adjoining walls of the two adjacent rowhouses were damaged, although fire officials did not have damage estimates for those houses or for Elton's house.

Shortly after the explosion, neighbors left their homes and gathered at the end of their small block of rowhouses at the residence of Nancy Cusik.

"Everybody was so upset. I got everybody to hold hands in a circle, and I said a prayer and they calmed down," she said.

Neighbors in the two damaged houses adjoining the Elton house were staying with Cusik yesterday.

A Baltimore police spokesman said Elton retired from the city department in 1993 after 24 years, working mostly on patrol in the Southwestern District.

Neighbors Wayne Harris and Dick Mencken, also retired city police officers, described Elton as a good neighbor who had been a dedicated police officer patrolling Walbrook Junction in West Baltimore.

They said he loved his two dogs and enjoyed re-enacting Civil War battles. The body of one of the dogs, a greyhound, was found yesterday afternoon. The other dog, a mixed breed, was missing.

Several hours after the explosion, neighbors walked up the alley behind Elton's house and gaped at the damage.

Much of the back roof had been blown off, and the two-story back wall was gone, showing a mattress and a bed frame dangling out of the charred shell.

The windows in the front of the house had all blown out during the explosion, leaving a long crack in the brick faM-gade and holes in the roof.

Before anyone was allowed to enter the house, county building inspector John Reisinger conferred with other county officials on the muddy front lawn to determine how to remove the roof.

Later in the day, a piece of heavy equipment was used to remove the roof and faM-gade so investigators could go inside without fear of the building collapsing.

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