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UPDATE: Man killed in explosion
Explosion at Colonial Beach coffee shop leaves at least one person injured.

 Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi
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Date published: 3/23/2010

An owner of a Colonial Beach coffee shop was killed today when an underground gasoline tank that he was trying to excavate exploded and hurled him across a street.

Jeff Malecha died at MCV Hospital in Richmond, where he was flown by helicopter after the 1:30 p.m. explosion, said Jim Jett, chief of the Colonial Beach Volunteer Fire Department.

According to Jett, Malecha and a helper were using a front-end loader and a tracked excavator to remove two 6,000-gallon underground gasoline-storage tanks buried near the coffee shop’s front door. The tanks were apparently installed when the property was an Esso gas station years ago.

Jett said that the men had pumped out the liquid gasoline that remained in the tanks, but the gasoline vapors that remained in one tank were somehow ignited while Malecha worked on top of it in the excavation.

Colonial Beach Police Chief Chris Hawkins said the explosion blew the tank halfway out of the hole and catapulted Malecha 100 feet across North Irving Avenue into the backyard of a house.

Donna Speiser, who lives across the street from the coffee shop, said she witnessed the incident.

“I was out in the yard getting ready to plant potatoes,” she said, “and all of sudden a fireball went up in the air and the guy went flying.”

Some patrons were in the coffee shop at the time of the blast, but authorities reported no other injuries. The shop itself did not appear to have been damaged.

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