Co-Owners body found after gas station blast

HMN-Onlookers watched as the body of a gas station owner was pulled from the site of an explosion.  The blast happened near an 8,000 gallon propane tank. (NBC)

More than 24 hours after an explosion at a gas station rocked a Bucks County community, the body of the co-owner killed in the blast has been recovered.

Crews first located the body of Joe Vigilante Wednesday afternoon. Hours later, they pulled his body out from underneath feet of concrete.

Vigilante was the co-owner of the Liberty Gas station where the explosion occurred as well as Vigilantes Enterprises, the attached auto shop. Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran spoke to Vigilante’s family.

“No one is as traumatized or hurt as much as his family,” Harran said. “But they will pull through.”

The blast happened in the area of an 8,000-gallon underground propane tank about 5 p.m. Tuesday, rocking the Liberty Gas station along the 1200 block of Bristol Pike, fire officials said.

“Just looking out over at the gas station I saw the giant ball of flame come up higher than the awning,” one witness, Robert Smith, said. “Something went up in the air and came down about ten seconds later.”

The tank is one of three underground storage tanks at the station. There is also another 8,000 gallon tank and a 12,000 gallon tank, according to records with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Vigilante was inside the vault trying to clean excess ground water out of the tank when the explosion occurred, according to Harran.

“A lot of police officers that were working and firefighters working on the scene knew him personally and it’s very hard,” Harran said.

The recovery of Vigilante’s body was very dangerous to the many rescue workers from Bensalem and surrounding municipalities, Harran said.

First responders had spent 12 hours trying to make contact with Vigilante before calling off the rescue around 5 a.m. Wednesday due to dangerous fumes that threatened to ignite, firefighters said.

Another man, Frank Tomaselli, 63, was rescued and rushed to the burn unit at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. He was listed in critical but stable condition with burns over 45 percent of his body, Harran said.

Tomaselli’s partner Shirley Coates told NBC10 he’s not doing well.

“I’m worried he’s going to die,” she said.

Tomaselli worked at the gas station part-time, according to Coates. She described him as a fighter and is hoping he’ll pull through.

“If he goes through the surgery, the burns get too bad, at his age he probably won’t live through it,” Coates said.

Officials continue to investigate the exact cause of the blast.

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