A big bang

An al­leged cop­per thief is ac­cused of caus­ing a blast that re­duced a home to a pile of rubble.

  • Flattened like a pancake: The natural gas explosion crumbled this unoccupied home at 4716 Howell St. in Wissinoming on Saturday. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

  • Flattened like a pancake: The natural gas explosion crumbled this unoccupied home at 4716 Howell St. in Wissinoming on Saturday. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

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. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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