Share this article

print logo

Rebuilding her work, life; Betty Cancilla, owner of Betty's Bridal Boutique, lost a lot when an explosion destroyed her home. She's fixing that.

The natural gas explosion which police say was caused by thieves detaching a gas valve while stealing copper -- demolished a building on Military Road in July.

But Betty Cancilla said it destroyed more than that.

Cancilla, the owner of Betty's Bridal Boutique next door, lost her business, her house -- which sits in back of the shop -- and her way of life that day.

Now, at age 70, she has been forced to rebuild. She said last week that she won't give up on her dream home and is hoping to reopen her business early next year.

In the past three months, Niagara County Sheriff's Office investigators were able to build a case against two people who are accused of causing the explosion while stealing copper tubing in the basement of the house.

Eric Waterstram, 37, of Niagara Falls, and Crystal D. Knepp, 28, of Newfane, were charged with second-degree burglary and second-degree criminal mischief -- both felonies -- and petit larceny.

Niagara County Sheriff's Investigator Daniel Brown said police consulted with the District Attorney's Office to consider arson charges, but they were unable to charge Waterstram and Knepp with arson because their action was reckless, not intentional, and did not fit the definition.

But Cancilla said she would have lost her life if she had been home that day and wants charges to be more severe.

"I plan to be there [in court] to let these people know what they have done," Cancilla said. "I can't understand why they didn't report it, even anonymously. There's so many ways to make an honest phone call. They had to know when they cut [the gas line] and heard and smelled the gas coming out.

"I'm just lucky I wasn't in the house."

Cancilla said she was at a nearby McDonald's when she got the word and drove to her house in a panic. She said when she saw the roof of her house on fire, she ran across the field, yelling for someone to get in there and do something.

"I learned later that they were waiting for the gas to be turned off," she said.

She blacked out and was hospitalized from the exertion, due to recurring angina. She said she has been hospitalized several more times with heart issues due to stress from dealing with the aftermath of the explosion.

"I need to get back and get my business going. It's just horrendous frustration. I can't do what I love the most," Cancilla said.

She said she and her husband, Louis, built the house together 19 years ago. When he died six years ago, she said, the only thing that kept her going was her bridal shop.

Cancilla helped design her dream house with help from her son Marty, a draftsman. Admittedly fussy with a decorator's eye, she kept a picture-perfect house with furnishings that she acquired over a lifetime. Now she has pictures of rooms that were destroyed and windows that were blown out. Her roof and patio had pieces of insulation and furnishings from the neighboring house, which imploded, then exploded, sending rubble onto her property.

Her own building was knocked off its foundation and condemned after the blast. But things are looking up, as windows are back in and walls have been rebuilt. She will soon have an occupancy permit and be able to take the next step in restoring the property.

She said shards of glass are everywhere and unique glass shelves in the bridal shop were destroyed, as well as mirrors used for table decorations. All the kitchen cupboards were blown off the walls, Cancilla said.

"I lost every single glass I owned," Cancilla said.

But like Cancilla herself, some things survived, including a large decorator vase that remained perched on its stand while everything around it lay broken.

"Brides are afraid I am not coming back, but I'm not ready to give it up. They are fun, they are young, they make me feel youthful. I try to make it inexpensive for them," Cancilla said of customers of her longtime business. "They need me and that's nice. Everyone wants to be needed."

email: nfischer@buffnews.com