7 victims killed in West Reading chocolate factory explosion identified

Thursday, March 30, 2023
7 victims killed in West Reading chocolate factory explosion identified
7 victims killed in West Reading chocolate factory explosion identified

WEST READING, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Authorities in Berks County have released the names of seven people killed in a chocolate factory explosion in West Reading, Pennsylvania last week.

The blast happened on Friday at R.M. Palmer Company.

Autopsies preliminarily revealed that all seven died of blast injuries. The following victims have been identified by the Berks County Coroner's Office:

-Xiorky D. Nunez, 30, of Reading, PA

-Susan H. Halvonik, 63, of Upper Providence Township, PA

-Michael D. Breedy, 62, of Marion Township, PA

-Diana M. Cedeno, 44, of Reading, PA

-Judith Lopez-Moran, 55, of Reading, PA

-Amy S. Sandoe, 49, of Ephrata, PA

-Domingo Cruz, 60, of Reading, PA

The identities were released by Berks County Coroner John Fielding. He says he knows the process of releasing the identities took longer than some may have liked, but he wanted the job to be done the honorable way.

"We stand now in God's good time, to make their passing and ensure their families and friends that we will not forget them," he said.

Fielding said the process of removing the victims from the rubble was delicate. Teams were worried about voids, and potentially falling into harm's way.

"You don't want people going in there and just going around in the debris and causing further trouble," he noted.

He also adds it was important to make sure families were given accurate information as each victim was found, and in some cases, that was a highly intensive process.

The manner of death is pending further investigation by other agencies, officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is examining a natural gas pipeline for fractures and other damage as they gather evidence on the cause of last week's explosion, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

Federal investigators have said natural gas was involved in the explosion.

"NTSB is continuing to gather evidence about how the building was supplied with natural gas and point of ignition, interview witnesses, examine the pipeline for fractures, any damage to pipeline, a chronology of events leading up to the explosion, among other issues that may come up as the investigation continues," agency spokesperson Keith Holloway said by email Wednesday.

A preliminary report on the explosion could be available in about three weeks, whereas the final report could take up to two years, he said. Pennsylvania State Police are also investigating the cause.

Some workers had told relatives they smelled natural gas before the blast, although the gas utility, UGI, said it had received no reports of a gas leak. UGI said it is cooperating with the probe.

The family that owns the candy company said in a statement Wednesday that the loss of their employees "will be felt forever."

"My family and I are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the devastating loss of several colleagues and friends as a result of last week's tragic incident at the West Reading facility," said the statement from Richard Palmer Jr. and his family.

West Reading officials have planned a vigil on Friday night to honor the lives lost during the devastating explosion.

Survivor pulled from rubble of chocolate factory explosion in West Reading