One dead in Orwell house explosion

ORWELL TOWNSHIP -- The Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office received a call around 6:45 p.m. Thursday that a house exploded at 4033 Montgomery Road in Orwell Township. That's about 40 miles east of Cleveland.

The Ohio Highway Patrol says a 27-year-old woman was killed and one man was injured. She was in the kitchen at the time of the explosion. The coroner has not yet released her official cause of death.

SLIDESHOW: Orwell house explosion

A man, who family identified as James Ortis, was upstairs when the explosion occurred.

Friends and neighbors are identifying the couple as James Ortis and Malerie Nick, and providing WKYC with the photo shown. Friends and neighbors say Ortis did not live at this address and Malerie was from the Fairport Harbor area and worked at a salon in Mentor.

Friends and neighbors say they had been dating about two years. The house is owned by Glynyss Ortis, James's mother.

Ortis was taken by LifeFlight to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland where he is in critical condition.

State troopers tell WKYC Ortis smelled gas when entering the home. The man reportedly may have lit a cigarette, which may have sparked the explosion. However, the investigation is ongoing.

Troopers also say Ortis suffered second and third degree burns. His uncle, Mike Friend, reports Ortis is in his early to mid-twenties. Friend says his son, Ortis's cousin, reportedly pulled the young man from the rubble after the explosion.

Friend told WKYC's Hilary Golston he had spoken with James before the explosion happened. "I told him to stop. I told him to turn the pump off," Friend said. "I didn't think about the gas in the well."

The rumor mill about what sparked the explosion in the house started to spread over Facebook, something that made Friend upset.

"I just don't appreciate people posting stuff on Facebook that ain't true," Friend told Golston. "Don't disgrace my family and their name."

The coroner, Ohio Highway Patrol, State Fire Marshal and several fire departments were on scene helping to secure the scene and gather information.

The explosion appears to have resulted from a gas leak, that had "infiltrated" the water system, Sgt Brian Cumberledge, of the Ashtabula Sheriff's Office, tells Channel 3's Hilary Golston.

When asked what sparked the fire, Sgt. Cumberledge responded "We still need to talk with some of the people. One of which is the surviving victim."

Cumberledge also says the smell of gas had been present in the house for some time.

Family also told Golston they've had the issue of natural gas seeping into the water for a while. One woman, who did not want to go on camera, said the water could actually be lit on fire at times before the incident.

Only two people were in the home at the time of the explosion. Troopers say the deceased woman was in the downstairs area of the kitchen when the house exploded.

People living in the area say the explosion could be felt from at least two miles away.

Cumberledge says he had never seen a house leveled like this before in the county.

Robert McElroy helped coax the family dog off the property, after she had been spooked by the noise. He says the couple had been together for a long time, but were not engaged.

"They'd been together for a long time and he loved her to death," McElroy told Golston, choking back tears. "We was all real close. He almost was like a boy to me."

Follow Hilary Golston on Twitter: @HilaryWKYC


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