Police investigating if St. Pete man died after vaping pen exploded in his face

Tallmadge "Wake" D'Elia, 38, who died Saturday at his home in St. Petersburg after a vape pen he was using exploded, police said. [Facebook]
Tallmadge "Wake" D'Elia, 38, who died Saturday at his home in St. Petersburg after a vape pen he was using exploded, police said. [Facebook]
Published May 15, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — A man died in a Historic Old Northeast house fire that may have been caused by a vape pen explosion, authorities said Saturday.

Fire Rescue was called to a home early Saturday on the 300 block of 19th Avenue North after they got a call that a home was on fire, police said. They found Tallmadge D'Elia, 38, dead inside.

"We are investigating the possibility of a vape pen explosion that caused the fire," said Lt. Steve Lawrence, a spokesman with St. Pete Fire Rescue. The victim had some facial injuries that indicated a vape pen could have exploded close to his face. Fire rescue crews and detectives with the St. Petersburg Police Department are still investigating. Lawrence said the cause of death won't be confirmed until an autopsy report is completed.

D'Elia, who went by "Wake," had used the pen before, his father Christopher said outside the home Sunday afternoon.

"I never did like it much," he said. "He put it to his mouth at the wrong time."

UPDATE: Autopsy confirms St. Petersburg man died from vape pen explosion

His son grew up in Maryland and worked in television news in New York, before moving to St. Petersburg about two years ago. He had been doing freelance audio and video production and helped with local historical preservation groups, Christopher D'Elia said.

He said Wake was an adorable kid and talented video editor and producer. "A bright light," he called him, "that should have not gone out so early."

"I just miss him," said his mother, Jennifer.

She said the fire started in a back room in the house, which was "extensively damaged" and spread throughout the house. The parents believe a neighbor must have seen the fire and called 911 quickly, or the structure would have been in much worse shape.

The two were in Baton Rouge, La., where they live, when they got the call from the St. Petersburg police on Saturday.

This is the first "fire of significance" Lawrence has investigated in St. Petersburg that is linked to a vape pen explosion.

"It happens. Not every day, but there are cases where it's led to fires," Lawrence said.

Vape pens have grown in popularity recently as an alternative to cigarettes. Users smoke vaporized oils.

According to a report published by the U.S. Fire Administration, between January 2009 and December 2016, there were 195 separate incidents of explosion and fire involving an electronic cigarette.

In 2015, a 29-year-old Colorado man was smoking an e-cigarette when it exploded in face, breaking his neck, shattering his teeth, fracturing his face, and burning his mouth, according to CBS News.

A 15-year-old California boy lost a half-dozen teeth in 2016 when his electronic cigarette exploded in his mouth, according to the Press Democrat. CBS News reported in February that a lithium ion battery used to power a vape pen was blamed for a Jan. 30 fire at Denver International Airport.