PINELLAS PARK — Karen Weil saw her best friend, Roy William Hubert, an hour before his repair shop was destroyed by an explosion.
She rushed to his home late Saturday when she heard that someone died at Rapid Roy's. He wasn't there.
Late Sunday afternoon Weil still hadn't heard from him.
"He would have called," said Weil, 48. "He would have been home if it wasn't him."
The explosion leveled the one-story shop at 6798 Park Blvd. N and started a fire that gutted a house next door.
Thanks to her friends, the woman who lived there, Shirley Grace, 82, escaped before her home of 30 years was engulfed by flames.
Grace's neighbor, Gene Lance, heard an explosion and ran outside.
"I've never seen such a fireball in all of my life," said Lance, 72. He and his wife, Norma, ran to Grace's house.
Gene Lance knocked on the door and his wife yelled until Grace emerged barefoot. She was fine, but within minutes all her possessions were destroyed.
"Her nightgown and her van. That's all she's got to her name," Lance said. Grace said she mostly was worried about her two cats, Stripes and Kurby.
"I hope they got out," she said. "If not, I hope they died really quickly."
The Lances, who own four houses in the neighborhood, said they will let Grace stay in one of them.
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Hubert's girlfriend of 12 years, Sherri Hoover, said Sunday she had no information on his welfare. She said she last spoke with him Saturday night, but declined to comment further.
Late Sunday, authorities had not identified the person in the shop. They say it could take time to do so because of the condition of the body.
Hubert's friend, Weil, said Hubert dropped by her home Saturday about 9 p.m. to deliver a few motorized items. He left a couple of hours later.
"He was talking to my friend about fixing his motorcycle on Thursday," Weil said. "He was happy and everything."
But she said Hubert recently told her he planned to close up shop because of a lawsuit he was involved in.
In recent weeks, she remembered him telling her, "You just don't know how bad I feel."
Hubert had a recent brush with the law, according to Pinellas County records. He was arrested on a charge of grand theft of a motor vehicle last fall.
He was found guilty last week and was released on his own recognizance. Sentencing was set for May 23.
Mounds of rubble were piled near his shop. Debris was scattered several blocks. Windows were broken at nearby businesses. Friends said a truck partly covered by the rubble belonged to Hubert.
Detectives from the Pinellas County sheriff's homicide unit and investigators from the State Fire Marshal's Office combed the scene most of the morning.
Eastbound lanes of Park Boulevard were closed for several hours.
A man at the scene, Keith Macatee, said Rapid Roy's owner fixed his weed trimmer recently and told him that Saturday would be his last day of business.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.