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One year later, questions persist surrounding house explosion that killed Lincoln couple

August 11, 2018

The timeline of events preceding the house explosion that killed Jeanne and Jimmy Jasa remains under investigation nearly a year later, Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said Friday.

Though the coroner reported on the death certificates that the manner of death could not be determined for the couple, that could change, Bliemeister said in a news release.

The natural gas explosion Aug. 14, 2017, obliterated the Jasas’ home at 5601 S. 78th St., damaged 33 other homes and led to a prolonged police and fire investigation into its cause.

Last month, police investigators met with Lincoln fire investigators, members of the City Building and Safety Department and the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office and reviewed the evidence and a timeline and determined there were still questions needing answers, the chief said.

“The family of Jeanne Jasa and Jimmy Jasa, along with all the residents who sustained damage to their property in that southeast Lincoln neighborhood, deserve a thorough and complete investigation,” Bliemeister said in the news release.

Friday’s update in the case marked the most recent insight into the investigation and the latest development since 67-year-old Jimmy Jasa died in hospice care May 2.

His wife, Jeanne Jasa, died Aug. 29, just weeks following the blast.

For nearly a year, what happened north of 77th Street and Old Cheney Road that day has puzzled neighbors.

Investigators have not been able to rule out foul play in the explosion. Testing by the State Fire Marshal’s Office a day after the blast ruled out an external gas leak as the cause, and police concluded natural gas provider Black Hills Energy wasn’t responsible.

Chief Lincoln Fire Investigator Bill Moody has said the explosion’s size indicates the gas that caused the blast, which has a chemical marker that smells like rotten eggs, had been leaking for hours.

Police believe the blast was ignited from inside the home and have said they believe the Jasas were the only ones who could explain how it might have ignited.

Police are treating the case as a criminal probe until they can pin down what happened before the blast threw Jimmy and Jeanne Jasa out of the house.

“The complexity of this, based on the level of destruction, is immense,” Bliemeister said last fall.

Federal law enforcement got involved, too. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation a few weeks after the explosion, and some evidence was tested at the ATF’s forensic explosive laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, spokesman John Ham said.

Police were not able to interview either of the Jasas before they died, said Lincoln Police spokeswoman Angela Sands.

The Jasas had lived in the home since 1997, according to an obituary and property ownership records.

Thursday, a patch of dirt covered where their home stood and weeds had overtaken the yard in a neighborhood where most lawns are manicured.

Two homes to the south, Ray Carlson remembers standing in his kitchen at 4:32 p.m. that warm August day.

“I’ll never forget it, just like I’ll never forget 9/11,” Carlson said.

When he went outside, the chaos of the moment made the aftermath a blur.

He remembers calling 911, and being the first to report the explosion, he said. It wasn’t until two hours later that he realized there was damage to his own home.

Kelly Beatty lived just north of the Jasas and recalled the glass windows in his living room shattering and thinking a plane had crashed nearby.

The blast blew in walls on the south side of the home and jammed his front door.

When he finally got outside through the sunroom on the north side of the home, he saw the fiery wreckage and heard bullets popping across the street.

“I had parts of his roof on my roof,” Beatty said.

Beatty and his wife, Peggy, had only lived in the home for about eight months when the explosion displaced them.

They moved back into their repaired home in February.

Both neighbors interviewed by the Journal Star said they paid the deductibles on their home insurance, which otherwise covered the cost of renovations.

Most people displaced by the blast have returned home, with the exception of the residents of one house near the Jasas that had to be rebuilt.

In the weeks after the blast, the neighborhood became a magnet for gawkers.

Residents of the block could always identify the rubberneckers as they drove slowly past the lot. Beatty even remembers seeing buses filled with senior citizens drive by, he said.

The curiosity has worn on some people in the neighborhood.

Some neighbors have said they’re sick of talking to news reporters about the explosion, Beatty and Carlson said.

Two neighbors approached at their homes Thursday afternoon declined to comment for this story.

Rumors about what happened that day have lingered, and absent an official account, neighbors say they haven’t been dispelled.

Bliemeister said the public, especially those people directly affected by the blast, will be notified once investigators reach a conclusion.

“When you still see an empty lot, you wonder what’s going on,” Carlson said.

Nebraska cold cases

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