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'Intentional' blast seriously burns man in Town of Tonawanda duplex Victim may have opened gas valve

An explosion Wednesday morning in a Town of Tonawanda duplex that left a 23-year-old man hospitalized with burns appears to have been an "intentional act," police said.

Jonathan Smith, who lived alone in the apartment at 9 Hale Court, suffered serious burns over much of his body, according to neighbors and official sources. He was taken to Erie County Medical Center. Information on his condition was not available.

"Information obtained during the course of the investigation appears to indicate an intentional act by the victim that led to a gas explosion," Lt. Nicholas A. Bado said.

When pressed about a possible motive, Bado said, "Relationship problems."

"We think he intentionally opened up a gas valve," he said, adding that a flexible gas line was located in an empty closet where a clothes washer and dryer would typically be.

"He was in another room when the explosion happened. It seemed as if he knew what he was doing," Bado said.

He added: "Detectives and fire investigators collected evidence and have not ruled anything out at this time."

Kelly Rosenberger, an acquaintance of Smith who lives on nearby Shelley Court, said she heard the explosion. Smith's aunt and uncle live in the adjoining apartment at 11 Hale Court, she said, and Smith's uncle climbed through a window to rescue him.

She said she talked to Smith as he lay on the grass, and he told her that he was lighting a cigarette when the explosion occurred.

"He did mention lighting a cigarette," Bado said.

Zachary Legler, who lives on Sheridan-Parkside Drive, approximately 50 yards from the scene, said he heard a "gigantic boom" and called 911.

Several fire companies from the town, as well as the Village of Kenmore, responded to the 9:03 a.m. alarm.

"We found this end of the building was completely blown out," said Sheridan Park Fire District Commissioner Randall Rider, pointing to the north end of the single-story frame structure. There was heavy fire damage to both ends of the duplex, he added.

The duplex will be demolished because of the extensive damage, Bado said.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com