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Residents Near Leveled Restaurant Express Fear as Cause Sought for Blast

December 9, 1985

DERBY, Conn. (AP) _ Utility officials on Sunday said they found a leak in a gas line near a restaurant leveled by an explosion that killed six people and injured 13, and residents expressed fear that their homes might blow up too.

Jacqueline Harris, a spokeswoman for Northeast Utilities, said it was not clear if the leak, in a line shut down after Friday’s blast, caused the explosion which turned the River Restaurant into rubble, or if the explosion caused the leak.

She said workers were digging up the line, which was built before 1901, and were trying not to disturb any evidence.

″Everybody’s scared,″ William Dinopoulos, manager of the Derby Pizza House across the street from the restaurant, said before the leak was discovered. ″We live in this area and maybe someday something will happen to us.″

Medical examiners on Sunday used dental records to identify the badly burned bodies pulled from the rubble of the four-story building.

The victims were Thomas Nedavaska, 35, a restaurant cook; Connie Pogozelski, 57, sister of restaurant owner Alphonse Ippolito; Albert and Mabel Paolozzi, a couple from Stratford; and Bernice Shortell, 59, and her daughter Dorothy Shortell, 21.

At least three of the injured remained hospitalized Sunday, one in serious condition and two in stable condition.

State police said the cause of the explosion might not be known for weeks, but others said the smell of natural gas had been discernible for days.

H.M. Shepherd, an investigator for the National Trasportation Safety Board’s Hazardous Material and Pipeline Accident Division, said before the leak was discovered in a 3-inch cast iron gas line that it was one of two lines in the area.

Department of Public Utility Control engineer Philip Sher said the line was made before 1901, which alone does not mean it was not in good condition.

He said it was last checked around Dec. 2 and found to hold pressure, but that there has been excavation in the area since then.

Philip Ashton, senior vice president of Northeast Utilties, said the company investigated complaints twice Friday of gas smells in the area, but neither time could crews detect gas.

John Cwaneki, who lives about a block away from the River Restaurant, said everybody ″feels funny″ in their homes - ″that something might happen to them.″

″They’re all talking,″ Cwaneki said. ″There was this smell throughout this part of town for a week or so.″

Deputy Fire Chief James Butler said that ″everyone has told us there’s no reason for concern. Our utilities around here are very safe.″

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