VERMILION TWP. — The impact of an SUV smashing into their home awakened Jen and Tracy Haslage at about 3:30 a.m. Thursday. But it was the whooshing sound of natural gas escaping from a shattered gas line moments later that sent them racing out into the night in near-zero degree temperatures.
Not 10 minutes later, the two watched as their home — the house they’d lived in for 23 years — exploded in front of them. Jen Haslage said at that moment, all she could do was scream as she wasn’t sure her husband had remained outside.
The explosion threw an Erie County deputy — they had called 911 after the crash — standing on the lawn back several feet and blew out the windows of his cruiser. Haslage’s husband, meanwhile, was found safe outside.
“We had just the clothes on our backs, no shoes, it was between five and 10 minutes, it was that quick,” she said.
The surreal series of events of the early morning kicked off a day of searches: One, for the driver who abandoned his vehicle and ran off only to be found later hiding in an empty home in a nearby community and two, by friends, neighbors and strangers who plodded across ice and through snow and cold to rescue the couple’s two dogs who ran off after the explosion.
The suspected driver, Kenneth Karnow, 56, of Vermilion, was found in a vacant home in Wakeman Township. He faces charges of burglary, possession of criminal tools, leaving the scene of a crash and failure to control.
Karnow will appear in Vermilion Municipal Court at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said deputies started looking for Karnow right away as the vehicle he left at the scene was registered in his name.
Sigsworth said caretakers of the Wakeman property noticed that the door to the home had been forced open when they went to check on it Thursday afternoon. Karnow, authorities said, had used a crowbar to pry it open and authorities found him hiding in one of the home’s closets.
The dog search
The Haslages’ home, valued at $154,000 on the Erie County Auditor’s website, was heavily damaged by the blast and destroyed by the subsequent fire.
Once it became evident that nothing could be saved, the family set out to look for their dogs, 7-year-old Zeus and 4-year-old Vito.
Zeus was found first at a Holiday Inn Express on state route 60 a few hours later, where someone let him into the lobby and contacted the family.
But Vito was tougher to find and, as word got out about the family’s traumatic morning, at least a dozen friends, neighbors and strangers joined in the hunt for him.
Tracy Haslage lost his voice from shouting the pup’s name and Jen refused to give up — she presumed Vito survived the explosion because his body wasn’t found.
Volunteers brought dog food and other supplies and many went to the woods behind the home to look for Vito. They found many deer, rabbit and raccoon tracks, but no sign of Vito.
Finally, about 2 p.m., a driver picked up the dog’s trail about a mile from the home after spotting Vito near the Willow Creek Golf Club. After searching the area and following his tracks, volunteers found him huddled next to a generator on the property still giving off some heat.
Jen Haslage said she was thankful for the community support looking for Vito and Zeus. Without them, she said she probably wouldn’t have been able to find them.
She expressed her gratitude to everyone who helped out including her family friends, Richard Burt, Eric Jayjohn, and Dave Oravec.
Sigsworth said he was thankful that all are accounted for after the explosion.
“We are very grateful for that, it’s a very sad situation for the Haslage family with their house being destroyed,” he said. “But it’s very fortunate no one was injured as a result of this and hats off to everybody who assisted with us today.”
Though they have little left, Jen Haslage said she hopes justice can be found for Karnow, the man police say drove into their home and started the chain of events. She said she saw him briefly when she and her husband ran out of the home, but he took off before she got her bearings.
“I’m still shocked someone would leave the scene of the crash knowing the situation like that,” she said. “I don’t think I could do that knowing people were still in the house.”
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