'Everything was destroyed but the bed' Perryville residents express relief, shock

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The name of a woman who died in Saturday's explosion and fire in Perryville was misspelled in Sunday's and Monday's editions of The Sun. Her name is Susan C. Monsson.

The Sun regrets the errors.

PERRYVILLE -- The car drove slowly down Broad Street and stopped in front of the wreckage that had been newlywed Martha and William Cox's first apartment.

Twenty-nine hours after a brush with death and less than an hour after her release from a hospital, Mrs. Cox stepped trembling from her family's car and searched the crowdfor the face of the state trooper who saved her life.

"I've got to talk to him," she said, pushing away the television cameras and hiding her tears in her mother's embrace. Across the street, Trooper Stanley Wilson spotted her and started walking toward her. As they put their arms around each other, tears flowed.

"God bless you," she said.

"I didn't do anything different than your dad would have done for me," said Trooper Wilson, who rescued Mrs. Cox and her husband, both 24, from their third-floor apartment after a fatal propane gas explosion in Perryville early Saturday. Mrs. Cox's father is a North East police officer who often works with Trooper Wilson.

Throughout Perryville yesterday, residents expressed sadness at the death of 43-year-old Susan Monsoon, who occupied a downstairs apartment with her husband. But there was also relief that so many others had escaped serious injury.

"When I saw the rubble, it was hard to believe anybody made it out. It was pretty much a miracle," said Dale Ziegler, who owns the five-unit building where the Coxes and Mrs. Monsoon lived.

Mrs. Monsoon was a clerk for the Harford County Aegis, a local newspaper. Her severely burned body was found by firefighters at 9:10 p.m. Saturday next to a breakfast bar in her apartment. Her husband, William, escaped.

"He . . . couldn't make it back in to get her," said Trooper Wilson. "That side [of the building] had collapsed."

The Monsoons had lived in the apartment building for two years, said Mr. Ziegler. Mrs. Monsoon previously worked for the Havre de Grace Record, he said. Mr. Monsoon works in the maintenance department of the Perry Point Veterans Administration Medical Center.

The explosion that killed Mrs. Monsoon was so powerful that in the Perry Villa retirement home next door, 77-year-old John Lazarczyk reported that his shoes were blown off and he was thrown from his couch.

On the other side of the apartment house, the stained glass windows of Perryville United Methodist Church crumbled into shards and chandeliers fell onto pews. Yesterday, the congregation worshiped at Principio United Methodist, a mile away, where prayers were offered for Mrs. Monsoon and for others affected by the disaster.

At least 10 people escaped death. Among them was Linda Kane, who lived in an apartment in the rear of the building that housed her pet shop, Tommy-Lynne's Grooming, which was between the apartment house and the retirement home.

Saturday morning, she was having coffee with a neighbor, Shirley Reynolds, who worked at the shop and lived in the front apartment, when they heard a boom.

"Everything was falling, including the walls," said Ms. Reynolds. The force of the blast pushed her into a sink and toppled a microwave oven onto her back, she said. After that, she doesn't remember. "God picked me up," she said. As the two women

crawled to get their purses and ran down the steps, they saw that Ms. Kane's apartment was gone.

Yesterday, with her left arm covered with a deep-blue bruise and the glass cuts on her feet stitched up, Ms. Reynolds said she was "petrified" that something like Saturday's nightmare could happen again.

"When I go inside of a house, I'm scared to death," she said.

The two women lost everything, including the business where they both worked and Ms. Reynolds' new Jeep, parked behind the house. "This is all I have," said Ms. Reynolds, pointing to her madras sleeveless shirt and dungaree shorts. "I don't know what I'm going to do now. I have no home, no possessions, no vehicle, no job."

"Shirley lost her brand new Jeep, but I got my life," Ms. Kane said.

The force of the blast blew a hole in the wall of the bedroom of Greg Hornberger and Regina Reynolds' first-floor apartment.

"And that's how we walked out," Mr. Hornberger said. "Everything was destroyed but the bed we were sleeping in. The Lord must have been sleeping with us."

Kelly and Kim Martin -- she is eight months pregnant -- also walked from their apartment without a scratch, their landlord said.

But the Coxes, on the third-floor, had a more difficult escape.

Mrs. Cox was asleep, her husband lying awake next to her, when rafters came tumbling down. The stairs to the ground crumbled, and Mrs. Cox, who has been operated on numerous times for cerebral palsy and walks unsteadily, froze.

"We saw the trooper standing there, telling us to jump out of the window," she said. "I was so scared. He yelled to get me out."

Trooper Wilson, who was among the first of the emergency personnel to arrive, tried to enter the front of the building with a firefighter, but fire forced them back. The two then went to the back of the building, where Trooper Wilson said he saw Mr. and Mrs. Cox "hanging out of the third-floor windows."

Trooper Wilson climbed onto the roof of a porch four feet away that the explosion had torn from the house. He grabbed Mrs. Cox's feet and pulled her out of the window and onto the roof. Mr. Cox then swung his legs out of the window, and Trooper Wilson grabbed his legs and pulled him out.

Nearby, a neighbor -- the Rev. Robert G. Kelly, pastor of Perryville United Methodist Church -- got a ladder so the Coxes could complete their escape. Seconds later, the building collapsed.

"I was just as scared as she was," the trooper said later.

Before Saturday morning, the Coxes, who were married April 27, had an apartment filled with belongings they had acquired as a newly married couple. Yesterday they had only their wedding rings, scooped up by Mr. Cox as the couple fled. "It's all we have left," Mrs. Cox said. "At least we have each other."

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