Roland “Andy” Dayton proudly flew the American flag on a pole standing in the front yard of his rural home southeast of Derby, a visible reminder of his military service and his love for his country.
That flag was lowered to half-staff Tuesday morning after an explosion Monday night leveled the house in the 7500 block of South 127th Street East. Firefighters found a body in the basement of the 41-year-old house.
While officials haven’t formally released the name of the victim, they think it is the resident – identified by neighbors and voter registration records as Dayton, an 88-year-old Navy veteran who served in the Pacific during World War II.
Todd Ames, who lives just north of where the explosion occurred, said Dayton had lived at that house on nearly five acres for 20 years.
“The ground shook” shortly before 10 p.m. Monday, Ames said.
“It was like the Garvey grain elevator going off again,” he said, referring to a grain elevator explosion in 1998. “It was loud.”
Lights flashing through their windows left Ames and his wife with the impression that a garage north of their house was on fire. But when Ames stepped outside, he quickly saw it was Dayton’s house that was ablaze.
At least, what was left of it.
The blast had obliterated the 1,400-square-foot house built in 1974, leaving little more than part of the roof lying atop Dayton’s white truck and part of a wall laid flat.
“There wasn’t much we could do,” Ames said. “What was left of the house was burning, and we couldn’t get any closer.”
Ames said he turned off the valve for a propane tank near the house and waited for firefighters to arrive. Fire crews were on the scene through the night and well after sunrise watching for hot spots.
“It looks like we could have had a propane explosion,” Sedgwick County Fire Marshal Daniel Wegner said.
The state fire marshal’s office is assisting Sedgwick County fire investigators, Wegner said. The blast pattern – debris blown in all directions for several hundred yards – suggests a gas explosion, he said.
Foul play is not suspected, Wegner said.
“We’re not noticing anything on the body that would say” foul play played a role in the death, he said.
After chatting with Ames for about a half-hour on Sunday afternoon, Dayton left on a trip. When Ames realized Dayton’s house had exploded, he hoped his neighbor wasn’t home yet.
But then he noticed Dayton’s white pickup parked next to where the house once was – and his trash cart had been retrieved from the side of the street.
“When I saw that,” Ames said, “I knew he was home.”
Dayton, whose wife died in 2004, was in good health for his age and kept his house and yard tidy, Ames said. He liked to go on trips, too.
“He was a good guy,” Ames said. “He was very active.
“I hope I’m that active when I’m his age.”
Contributing: Beccy Tanner of The Eagle