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M’TOWN MAN CHARGED IN EXPLOSION

mtown-explosionThe home at 56 Twin Brooks Ave., where three people were injured in an explosion Tuesday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include information from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and Middletown police.]

A Middletown man has been charged in connection with an explosion at his Twin Brooks Avenue home that injured two members of the State Police, the Asbury Park Press reports.

Frank Szmaja, 64, was charged with one count of third-degree possession of a destructive device, one count of second-degree causing or risking widespread injury or damage, plus the disorderly persons offenses of persons possessing explosives or destructive devices to notify police, maintaining a nuisance and violation of a law intended to protect public health and safety, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office said in a release.

Middletown police said in a statement that Szmaja called 911 Tuesday night saying something had blown up in his hand. When police arrived to his home, at 56 Twin Brooks Ave., Szmaja, a former health department worker, was standing in his driveway with his hand wrapped in a bloody cloth. He was taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune for emergency hand surgery.

Authorities have been vague on what the “improvised explosive devices” Szmaja had in his garage were, and haven’t offered a theory about why he was in possession of them. When Middletown police searched his garage, “a large number of containers containing various chemical compounds were observed in plain view.”

A visit to Szmaja’s home Wednesday morning offered no clues of an explosion occurring — it looked as normal as the other houses on the block.

From the article:

Szmaja was arrested Tuesday. His bail has been set at $220,000. It was not immediately clear if he was in custody Wednesday. His first court appearance has been scheduled for Monday, according to court papers. Szmaja started working for the state Department of Health in March 1977, according to state records. He retired in July 2008 with a final average salary of $81,134. His current annual pension is $40,131, public records show.

Police were called to Szmaja’s home Tuesday afternoon for two small explosions that resulted in injuries to at least three people, two of them members of the State Police HazMat unit. The first explosion, reported shortly after 2 p.m. at the home, may have blown off fingers from the hand of a 50-year-old man, authorities have said.

Two State Police HazMat unit members, working with the State Police bomb squad, suffered minor injuries from a second explosion that happened while they were investigating the scene, State Police said. They were treated at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank and released, State Police said Wednesday morning.

The prosecutor’s office said the two injured State Police employees were treated for minor lacerations and burns.

Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said there was another, controlled explosion later Tuesday night near a police training facility not far from Szmaja’s home. Nobody was hurt in that explosion, he said.

The whole series of events Tuesday night has residents perplexed and worried, Scharfenberger said.

“It’s sort of an unusual occurrence,” he said.

Authorities are still investigating the explosion. The prosecutor in particular “urges that any individuals possessing information about Szmaja’s involvement with explosives and/or destructive devices” get in touch with them.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Middletown Detective Bureau at 732-615-2063.

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