Oakland, CA Diner Explosion, Aug 1969


Oakland, Calif. -- A shattering explosion ripped apart a diner at 3410 MacArthur Blvd. early today, leaving one man dead, another injured and widespread destruction to surrounding buildings.
Nothing remained of Luigi's Hotdogs and Hamburgers after the blast and fire at 1:15 a.m.
The dead man burned beyond recognition and carrying papers with various names, was tentatively identified as CHARLES RICE, 42.
He died screaming for help as flames engulfed the little cafe.
CHARLES RAGUSA, 35, was literally blown out of his shoes by the force of the explosion. He suffered multiple cuts from broken glass and third degree burns over 20 per cent of his body.
Doctors at Highland Hospital said his condition was good. He told officers he had been mopping the floors with gasoline and he and RICE stepped outside for a smoke when the explosion occurred.
"I guess I left the gas too close to the water heater," he said," and the pilot light set it off."
Police Officers Douglas Ayres and Ted Casha were sitting in their patrol car not 100 feet from the diner when it burst apart.
"Flames shot 100 feet into the air," Ayres said. "Parts of the building were airborne."
The blaze set fire to a four-unit apartment building directly behind Luigi's.
Seven tenants in the apartments, at 3608 Midvale Ave., were evacuated.
Ayres and Casha radioed for help and ran to the burning buildings.
A series of smaller explosions followed the main blast.
Ayres said he heard RICE shrieking for help, but the diner was a solid mass of flame and nothing could be done.
RICE'S charred body was recovered after the fire was brought under control. He was on the sidewalk inches from the front doorway.
Ayres saw RAGUSA staggering from an alleyway beside the diner and went to his aid, leading him to safety until an ambulance arrived.
The impact blew out store fronts up and down the block, littering the sidewalks on both sides of the street.
A telephone wire was snapped and fell across a bank of high voltage lines, adding the danger of a further explosion until Pacific Gas and Electric Company workmen arrived to turn off the power, blacking out the area for more than 20 minutes.
The diner, owned by Luigi Dimichele, was less than a year old.
Police said an arson investigation will be requested because of the tremendous force of the explosion and the amount of gasoline at the scene. Two five-gallon cans of gas were found in the rear of the car RAGUSA drove to the diner minutes before he entered and began working.
MRS. LUCY KLADDEN, manager of the damaged apartment building, said she was hurled from her bed by the impact of the blast. She ran into her living room to find it ablaze.
She was slightly burned before fleeing to safety.
Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth West, who live in the adjoining apartment, were on their way home from work at the Illinois Glass Co. when they heard the explosion, but were allowed in to retrieve their valuables.
The blast was heard for blocks around and the blaze was visible for miles.

Oakland Tribune California 1969-08-29