When Linda Cerritelli woke up in her Ewing, N.J. townhome on Tuesday morning feeling sick, she opted to work from home, having no idea the decision would lead to her death.
A few hours after logging on, the 62-year-old Johnson & Johnson employee was killed when a gas explosion obliterated her home and turned a quiet suburban street into a disaster scene.
“We are just devastated, in shock and broken hearted,” said Tara Jones, who lived next door to the victim for 13 years. “I have an email from her right before the explosion, which were probably her last words. I just keep reading it over and over.”
Throughout Tuesday morning, the two neighbors exchanged emails with the last note from the victim, who Jones affectionately refers to as “Linny,” arriving about 40 minutes before the blast occurred.
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“I’m holding Linda’s email…and now memory,” Jones said.
Search crews discovered Cerritelli’s body on the hood of a car outside of 28 Crockett Lane Tuesday evening, more than four hours after the blast destroyed her home.
Officials released her name Wednesday afternoon after family members were notified and an autopsy was completed.
The medical examiner used dental records to identify the victim, according to Ewing Township Police Lt. Ron Lunetta.
Jones says Cerritelli’s boyfriend and some of her family members live in the area, while her son resides in Colorado and a sister resides in Florida.
Other friends expressed their sadness over losing a kind-hearted member of their community.
“She was a good person,” said Ginny Roth, a friend of the victim, who recalled her frequent walks around the South Fork development.
Investigators continue to search for the cause of the blast, which occurred around 12:50 p.m. and injured seven people.
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the woman who lost her life and to the families who have been displaced from their homes,” said a PSE&G representative in a news release.
PSE&G officials say they hired private contractor Henkels & McCoy to replace underground electrical service at the unit at 28 Crockett Lane, were Cerritelli lived, earlier in the day because neighbors were having electrical problems. The area was surveyed and marked to make sure gas lines were not hit by workers in the field, according to authorities.
But, officials say, a gas line was struck and damaged during the work. PSE&G workers who came out to investigate and repair the damage were standing in front of the house when the explosion occurred.
Protocol requires workers to call 911 if they uncover or damage a gas line during any excavation work, but it is unclear if authorities were notified prior to the blast.
At least 20 homes were uninhabitable Wednesday and at least 55 units in the complex received some kind of damage.
As investigators piece together what happened, Cerritelli’s friends and family try to make sense of their loss.
“It’s awful,” Jones said. “How much can change in seconds.”