Police: Pipe bandit could have caused gas explosion on N.J. block

Friday, May 20, 2016
VIDEO: Gas burglar
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VIDEO: Gas burglar

RUNNEMEDE, N.J. (WPVI) -- A man is facing several charges in connection with the theft of pipes from a home in Runnemede, New Jersey.

Police say at any moment, several homes could have been heavily damaged by a gas explosion, all because 22-year-old William Guennette was trying to steal copper pipes to sell for drugs.

The incident happened around 10:15 a.m. in the 300 block of North Read Avenue.

"When we arrived on location, we detected an extremely large odor of natural gas," said Runnemede Police Chief Paul Dailey.

Within minutes, utility workers shut off the gas supply to the house, allowing firefighters to go in and open doors and windows to air it out.

Fortunately, the homeowner has been away for the week.

"If the heater or something would have sparked, we would have definitely lost that house, and probably two or three houses next to that house," said Dailey.

That thought sent shivers through neighbor Doris Kirschner.

"I was scared for my life," said Kirschner. "You know in an instant, we could all be gone."

Police say Guennette of the 200 block of West 5th Street is responsible for what happened.

They say Guennette, who has a history of drug problems, was trying to steal other pipes from the home to sell for drugs.

Police say he apparently struck two other homes including one that David Branco had just bought.

Branco says he called police to report someone had cut out several pipes and electrical wires in his home, causing roughly $2,000 in damage.

That's when the officer told him what had just happened down the block.

"He said it was pretty close to blowing up the neighborhood," said Branco. "It's pretty crazy. First week here, and something like that happens."

Guennette is being charged with three counts of burglary, one count of possession of stolen property and, most of all, risking widespread disaster and destruction.

He has been remanded to Camden County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail.