Oct 7, 2004 3:29 pm US/Eastern
(1010 WINS) (Weehawken, NJ) A car parked on a residential street exploded Thursday morning, killing its driver, blowing out windows and rattling residents of a neighborhood overlooking the Lincoln Tunnel.
The blast appears to have been an accident, said state police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Rehmann.
The victim worked as a pipefitter, Rehmann said, and investigators found an acetylene tank in the rear seat area and another gas cylinder in the trunk of the car.
Investigators were trying to determine whether the tanks had leaked and whether the gas might have been ignited by the car's ignition or a cigarette.
The victim's identity was withheld pending notification of relatives.
The explosion occurred about 7 a.m., blowing out the door and windows at 76 Hackensack Plank Road and blackening the building's concrete facade. The vehicle was parked in front of the building parallel to the curb.
State police sent members of its arson/bomb squad and K-9 units to the scene to assist Weehawken police and the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office in the investigation, Rehmann said.
Also on the scene were agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who brought an explosives investigation truck.
Special Agent Joseph G. Green, a ATF spokesman, said two steel gas tanks, about 2 feet long and 6 inches in diameter, were found intact in the burned-out wreckage of the car, a Volkswagen sedan. One was an acetylene tank, while the contents of the other were not known, Green said.
"If there was any type of gas leaking, the explosion was consistent with a gas-air explosion," said Green.
In a similar incident in June 2003, a Newark welder was killed, apparently when his ignition or a cigarette sparked an explosion from a leaking acetylene tank in his car.
Hudson County Prosecutor Edward J. DeFazio said the victim was a man in his 20s who lived on the street where the car exploded. His body was removed about 2 p.m., after remaining covered for nearly seven hours by a white sheet over the driver's seat.
Hackensack Plank Road runs up the side of the Palisades, high above the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, with a spectacular view of midtown Manhattan across the Hudson River. Neighbors said the blast literally shook their normally quiet neighborhood.
"I just heard a loud boom and the apartment shook," said Jerry Walters, 43, who lives across the street in a building that lost two windows. "I went out to see what was going on, and I saw a car engulfed in flames."
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