Liberty gas station and Vigilante Service Center in the 1200 block of Bristol Pike

Tim Jimenez/KYW Newsradio

Body of man killed in gas station explosion recovered

Crews were blocked from about 2 feet of debris.

June 13, 2018 - 6:16 am

UPDATED: 9:40 p.m.

BENSALEM, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Crews in Bensalem have recovered the body of a man who was 15 feet underground when he was killed in an explosion at a gas station on Bristol Pike Tuesday afternoon.

Once they found his body, authorities were blocked by about 2 feet of debris, and extricating his body was a slow and delicate process. 

Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran said Joe Vigilante was part owner of the gas station.

"If you can imagine moving dirt in a gaseous environment and you're limited on your movements and you're limited in what you have down there as far as resources," Harran said.

Crews began the recovery mission since the explosion around 5 p.m. Tuesday, where Vigilante had since been trapped underground. Crews went into an underground vault to recover the remains Wednesday afternoon. 

When the explosion happened at the Liberty gas station on Bristol Pike near the Woodhaven Mall, authorities say Vigilante was about 15 feet underground in a vault that surrounds a tank that holds 8,000 gallons of fuel.

Bensalem Fire Rescue Batallion Chief Rob Sponheimer said the need to air out the vault, because of dangerous fumes, slowed recovery efforts. “It’s a confined space so it’s a very slow, tedious process,” Sponheimer said. 

Harran said two-man crews went down into the underground vault, taking special precautions to avoid sparking any remaining gasoline fumes, and using air hoses instead of air tanks.

“There’s no cellphones, no lights," he said. "They're doing drop lights, glow sticks. There's no electronics at all in that hole."

Harran said it’s not uncommon for the vault, which holds the gasoline tanks, to get water in it. The vault needs to be removed, and they believe that’s why Vigilante was down there.

Another worker, a 63-year-old who was above ground, was badly burned in the blast. He is in critical but stable condition with burns covering more than 45 percent of his body.

Officials are still uncertain of the cause of the blast.

"It’s still under investigation," Sponheimer said. "The ATF is here, and they’re gonna assist us with that.” 


This is a developing story. Stay with KYW Newsradio for live updates.

Tim Jimenez and Jim Melwert contributed to this report.