Update: Bank Employee Killed in Explosion Identified

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A 27-year-old male employee of Chase Bank was killed in the massive explosion that ripped through downtown along Federal Street shortly before 2:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Youngstown Police released the information at 1:11 a.m. Wednesday

“All other people related to this incident have been accounted for,” Lt. Mohammad Awad said in a statement.

The Mahoning County Coroner’s Office on Wednesday identified the employee as Akil Drake.

“The JPMorgan Chase family mourns the loss of our colleague,” a JPMorgan spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday. “Our hearts go out to their family as well as our injured employees, their families and others affected by this tragedy. We will continue to work with local officials to support them.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, city officials briefed the media on what was known at that point.

“The only fact that exists right now is there was an explosion,” fire Chief Barry Finley said. “We’re not sure what caused the explosion. We know Dominion is out here checking over their lines. We have no idea what caused the explosion.”

The explosion was in the 12-story Realty Tower, which is home to high-end apartments on its upper levels. Chase Bank leases the first floor.

“Structural engineers took a look at the building. It doesn’t look – I’m not going to say it’s unsafe – but they have some concerns,” Finley said. “They have to do some more research on the building. Someone came down with the original plans for the structure of the building so they could look that over and tell us what they think.”

Seven people were transported to Mercy Health St. Elizabeth Hospital. Mercy Health said in a statement Wednesday that one person remains in critical condition. Three were treated and released, and three are still hospitalized in stable condition.

“My firefighters did a complete search of the entire building,” Finley said. They went floor-by-floor and checked each apartment and elevator.

The chief couldn’t say how many people live in Realty Tower or how many people were in the building at the time of the explosion.

“We had the sheriff’s department send the mini-drone down in the basement,” Finley said. “They said there’s nothing to see. The floor collapsed in on itself. There was nothing to see. It was full of water.”

Firefighters will go into the building to check the basement when they get clearance that it’s safe, but not before, he said.

Both the Realty and International Towers, which is next door, were evacuated. International Towers residents, who gathered outside the Mocha House after leaving their apartments, were expected to be allowed to return to their homes late Tuesday. Realty residents were not.

Finley said he wasn’t going to allow anyone to be inside the Doubletree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown either.

Charles Shasho, Youngstown deputy director of public works, said that as of Tuesday evening Market Street and Wick Avenue, both north and southbound, and Federal Street from Phelps Street to Walnut Street would remain closed. Commerce, Walnut and Boardman streets would remain open.

“As of right now through conversations with the building owner, he is in route to the scene,” Shasho said. “The building owner will have to provide some type of structural assessment on the building. … But right now we’re erring on the side of caution and securing the site from any pedestrians and vehicular traffic.”

Yo Properties 47 LLC paid $2 million to buy the Realty Tower in June 2018. The property tax bill is sent to Lument Real Estate Capital in Dallas, Texas, according to public records.

Boardman-based GreenHeart Companies, through its GreenHeart Property Management Group, manages and leases the Realty Tower Luxury Apartments, states its website. GreenHeart Property Management Group was founded in 2016 by Brian and John Angelilli. Its other downtown properties include The Gallagher, which houses 41 studio-style apartments, and the Legal Arts Center, which is undergoing renovation.

John Angelilli was contacted by The Business Journal. As of this posting, he has not returned our call.

Tonight the area surrounding the Realty Tower is blocked off, and Shasho urged people to stay away from it because of potential danger.

Shasho said there are some missing fascia beams that may compromise the structure, but crews won’t know until they can get in to do a full assessment.

The American Red Cross was set up at the Covelli Centre, working with residents of both Realty and International Towers, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said.

He said the city received calls from departments and officials from throughout the area, including Gov. Mike DeWine, offering to help.

First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver formerly lived in the Realty Tower and said there are two to three apartments on each floor.

“When I first heard about [the explosion], it sickened me,” he said. “I was sick just worrying about the people that may have been hurt.”

He’s kept in contact with some residents who lived there when he did and called to check on their well being. Those he contacted were OK, Oliver said.

The explosion was strong enough to blow the face off the Realty Tower, 47 Federal St., and damage plate windows across the street. Security video of the blast has been posted by WFMJ-TV on X.

A spokesman for J.P. Morgan Chase said the company is keeping in touch with city officials regarding the safety of its employees and others in the building.

The precise cause of the blast is not known, but as the dust from the explosion was settling, a reporter detected an odor consistent with natural gas. The reporter could also hear a hissing noise akin to escaping gas.

Immediately after the initial alarm was sounded, YoungstownFire.com, a site posted by the firefighters’ union, said the cause was an underground gas explosion and multiple victims were trapped.

There did not appear to be any active road construction work going on near the building just before the explosion. The underground work in that area appeared to be finished, with only surface concrete work needing to be done, according to a casual visual inspection. 

A spokeswoman for Enbridge Gas Ohio said crews were called to the scene at 2:51 p.m.

“Public safety is our top priority, and we are onsite and working closely with local emergency responders to contain the area and have shut off gas to the entire block as a safety precaution,” said Stephanie Moore. “The cause is not known at this time. An investigation will be led by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, and we will assist in any way we can. This process can take time. Our thoughts are with those who have been impacted by this event.”

Police have cordoned off streets near the Realty Tower and are limiting access in and around downtown.

In precautionary measures, tenants of nearby buildings, including Ohio One Building – where The Business Journal is headquartered – were asked to vacate the premises.

Guests at the DoubleTree by Hilton, located just across the street from the Realty Tower, are in the process of being relocated to other accommodations, said Kimberly Patrone, sales manager.

Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology, issued an advisory that the center would be closed until further notice due to the emergency.

The Western Reserve Transit Authority said in a statement Wednesday that buses are now running after service was disrupted by the explosion.

“When we first got here it was to make sure people were safely evacuated from the buildings,” said Youngstown police Chief Carl Davis. “After that, the emergency management systems took over.”  

The chief referred all further questions to Robin Lees, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency.

The Realty Tower was built in 1924 to serve as the headquarters for what was the Realty Guarantee and Trust Co. It has undergone many ownership changes.

Management Parking LLC, an affiliate of developer Dominic J. Marchionda’s NYO Property Group, sold the building in 2018 to its current owner. In 1989, it was purchased for $750,000 by Tri State Renaissance of Pittsburgh. In December 2000, it was sold for $540,000 to USA Parking Inc. of Cleveland and later transferred to Management Parking LLC.

The building subsequently was converted into apartments and first-floor commercial space.

Pictured at top: A man is helped out of the rubble by a firefighter. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Magada)

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