Man dies after explosion at Austin apartment building

The cause of the blast was determined to be the “ignition of natural gas,” fire officials said.

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Emergency responders survey the area full of debris from the fourth floor of an apartment building due to a possible explosion on the same floor at the corner of Wend Wen Ave and N Central Ave in Austin, Tuesday, September 20, 2022. Anthony Vazquez/ Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A man has died after he suffered serious injuries in an explosion earlier this week at an apartment building in Austin.

Shabron Robinson, 29, was taken to Loyola University Medical Center with extensive burns and pronounced dead Thursday afternoon, according to fire officials and the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

He was one of eight people injured in the blast about 9 a.m. Tuesday near West End and Central avenues.

The explosion caused the top floor of the four-story building to collapse, filling the street with dust, bricks and debris.

The Chicago Police Department’s bomb unit was called to the scene as well as agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The cause of the blast was determined to be the “ignition of natural gas,” fire officials said — but what ignited the gas remains unknown.

Robinson had been a Postal Service employee since 2016, a spokesman said Friday.

His death was “a tragic loss for all Chicago postal workers, Branch 11 and his immediate postal family at the Milton Brunson Station,” Mack Julion, local president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said Friday.

Robinson “had a very spirited personality and was well liked by all who knew him,” Julion said. “He will be greatly missed. At this time we ask everyone just keep his entire family in their prayers.”

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Peoples Gas officials said the building’s natural gas service was working properly.

“There remains no reason to believe any of our equipment — or any other part of our system — was responsible for the incident,” Peoples Gas said. “As a reminder, piping and appliances inside the building are the responsibility of building management and/or residents.”

The Department of Buildings had received no recent requests for inspections, according to officials.

The building has been cited in the past but none of those violations would have “contributed to an explosion or structural failures,” according to the department.

Urban Alternatives, the company that manages the building, has found move-in-ready apartments for all 31 families displaced by the explosion and issued reimbursements for September rent, according to a statement released Friday.

“Home is supposed to be a safe place,” said building owner Roman Viere. “We are doing whatever is needed to make sure that our residents have a safe place to stay after this incident turned their lives upside down.”

The building owner was told by insurance investigators the explosion was caused by “improper use of an appliance.”

“The insurance company’s cause and origin investigator was informed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) that four of the five burners on the stove were fully open in the unit where the explosion originated,” according to a statement from building owners.

The ATF could not immediately be reached for comment.

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