Bail has been set at $200,000 for the alleged copper thief who is accused of triggering a natural gas explosion that razed a vacant Wissinoming house on Saturday.
Authorities identified the suspect as Michael Migliaccio, 35, of the 4800 block of Van Kirk St. Migliaccio is a registered sex offender and has an extensive criminal history, according to court records. He is also known by the alias Joseph Rumor, authorities said.
Migliaccio allegedly broke into an unoccupied single home at 4716 Howell St. on Saturday and disconnected a gas line while stealing the pipes to sell them as scrap. The resulting gas leak caused an explosion at 12:23 p.m. that left the three-story residence as a pile of rubble and forced the evacuation of the surrounding city block for more than two hours.
No serious injuries were reported, but several nearby homes sustained damage.
The house was vacant, had recently been remodeled and was for sale, said Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homeland Security bureau.
Firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes and soon began spraying water on the pile of debris, although no flames were reported. The explosion ruptured all four walls and thrust glass into the street. The roof remained mostly intact but fell to ground level.
“I was out in the yard and just heard a big explosion. Then [there was] dust and glass everywhere,” said Andrea Anderson, who lives across the street.
The force of the blast cracked Anderson’s front window and a portion of her home’s brick facade.
Neighbor Joe Sindone’s dog, Bear, a 10-pound shepherd mix, had alerted him to the imminent disaster.
“I was with my puppy upstairs and he took off running. I didn’t know what was going on. Then all of a sudden, it was ‘ba-boom!’
“I grabbed the dog and ran downstairs, ran outside and I looked and the house was down. … [Bear] warned me.”
Sindone, and perhaps Bear, also smelled gas. Philadelphia Gas Works employees arrived at the scene and used a jackhammer to access underground pipes. Firefighters used a chainsaw to cut sections of the collapsed roof, but couldn’t initially search the pile of wood, bricks and glass because they feared further collapse.
Residents were directed to two SEPTA buses that were parked at the two ends of the block. Police detectives interviewed neighbors on the buses, said Sindone’s wife, Sheryl.
According to Sullivan, neighbors told police they had seen a man at the home that morning. They identified the man as Migliaccio through a prior arrest photo. Police located and detained him within hours of the blast.
Neighbors said that thieves had broken into the vacant house previously to steal pipes.
The District Attorney’s Office charged Migliaccio with causing or risking a catastrophe, burglary, trespassing, mischief, theft, reckless endangerment and conspiracy.
Authorities have announced no other arrests, although police are investigating the possibility another person was involved in the caper. Migliaccio remains in jail and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on July 23.
Migliaccio has at least six prior arrests since 1996 in Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware and Chester counties, including a 2007 case involving a rape in Bristol, court records show. He eventually pleaded guilty to sexual assault and indecent assault in the case and was sentenced to serve up to 23 months in Bucks County prison, followed by four years probation. He was also required to register with the Pennsylvania State Police as a Tier 3 sex offender.
Magliaccio’s other arrests involved offenses including drug offenses, theft, auto theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, passing bad checks, identity theft, DUI and disorderly conduct. Judges have ordered him to undergo drug and alcohol rehabilitation on several occasions. ••