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Suspect in blast agrees to plea deal

A Newfane woman pleaded guilty Friday and agreed to testify against her co-defendant in connection with a theft of copper pipes that triggered an explosion that leveled a Town of Niagara home.

Crystal D. Knepp, 28, of Ewings Road appeared in Niagara County Court to admit to a reduced charge of attempted second-degree burglary, which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence.

Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas scheduled sentencing for March 28, but part of the plea deal is that Knepp must testify against Eric S. Waterstram if there is a trial.

Waterstram, 38, of Cleveland Avenue, Niagara Falls, was arraigned Friday on a grand jury indictment charging him with second-degree burglary and second-degree criminal mischief, Assistant District Attorney Brian D. Seaman said.

Those charges carry a maximum 15-year prison sentence. Waterstram pleaded not guilty and remains in the County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail. Knepp's bail was set at $2,500.

Waterstram and Knepp were charged with burglarizing a home at 3225 Military Road in the Town of Niagara on July 19.

The next day, a buildup of natural gas flowing out of removed or damaged fixtures in the basement caused the explosion, Seaman said.

Sheriff James R. Voutour said at the time of the arrests Oct. 24 that the blast caused $150,000 damage, while the suspects garnered $100 for selling the scrap copper.

A driver who happened to be going past the house at the time of the blast reportedly suffered a concussion.

The explosion knocked a nearby business, Betty's Bridal Boutique, off its foundation, and the owner, Betty Cancilla, suffered an angina attack when she saw the damage.

Several other buildings and vehicles were damaged by debris from the blast that obliterated the 1,050-square-foot home, owned by Joseph Nicosia Sr. It was unoccupied at the time, but a real estate agent told The Buffalo News in October that Nicosia's son had been planning to move in.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com