A man expecting his first child died Sunday and his brother was injured when a device they were preparing for a gender reveal party exploded in a garage in New York’s Catskills, authorities said.
The New York State Police said officers responded to a report of an explosion at a home in the city of Liberty, New York, just before noon. Christopher Pekny, 28, was killed and his brother Michael Pekny, 27, was injured, authorities said.
What caused the blast remains under investigation, said a State Police spokesman, Trooper Steven Nevel. The device consisted of a kind of pipe that was intended to be used at a gender reveal party, but the nature of its explosive material was not yet known, he said.
Peter Pekny Jr., 34, the oldest of the brothers, called the incident “the strangest accident I could ever imagine,” although he did not know what caused the explosion, he said in a telephone interview Monday.
He said his brother Michael was stable in a Middletown, New York hospital, and doctors were able to reconstruct a damaged knee.
Explosive devices used in gender reveal events have been linked to at least two deaths since 2019 and two major wildfires. The holidays are a popular way for couples to post news about their pregnancy on Facebook and Instagram.
A 26-year-old man died in Michigan this month after being hit by shrapnel from “a small cannon-like device” that exploded when he was fired in celebration at a baby shower, authorities said.
Peter Pekny said his brothers were “very mechanically inclined” and “could fix and do anything.”
He described Christopher as a talented mechanic who liked rebuilding engines and taking cars apart and putting them back together. Christopher and Michael had been fixing up a rental home in Ferndale, a hamlet in the town of Liberty, which is about 110 miles northwest of New York City, his brother said.
Pekny said Christopher earned the nickname Frankenstein at his job at Liberty Concrete, where he worked as a bricklayer.
“What he picked up and moved would have carried three people,” he said. “I’ve seen him lift engine blocks because they got in the way.”
He said Christopher Pekny was 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds. When he played football in high school, he once collided so hard with another player that it broke the player’s helmet in half, he recalled.
“He had the hardest head I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Christopher Pekny found out shortly before Christmas that his girlfriend was pregnant and that they were having a child, Peter Pekny said.
Pekny said she received a call from family members on Sunday, the day of the party, while she was in Florida, New York, about 45 miles away. At first he thought the call was a ruse to get him to the party early, but when he heard the news, he raced toward Liberty on Route 17, sometimes over 100 miles per hour.
He said he blew through a state trooper, who stopped him and started yelling at him. Mr. Pekny said he explained why he was speeding, and after the policeman went to his patrol car and checked the radio to verify his story, he returned to Mr. Pekny’s truck.
He said the policeman told him: “You have to go” and did not give him a fine. “The color completely disappeared from his face,” Pekny said of the policeman. “He seemed to have seen two ghosts.”
As children, Michael and Christopher were inseparable and remained that way into adulthood. “If you could think of two people who were the two closest people, amplify that ten times,” Pekny said.
Growing up, Pekny said, he was tough on his younger siblings and didn’t share their bond. That had started to change recently, he said, and they were getting closer.
“I really wanted to start a family,” she said of Christopher. “It was really starting to settle and grow.”
The Pekny family owns the Robin Hood Diner, a mainstay in Livingston Manor, an area of the Catskills famous for trout fishing.
Christopher, who would have turned 29 on Tuesday, waited tables and served as a bar there. He wished his father good night on Saturday and said he would see him in the morning, Pekny said.
A Facebook post on the diner’s page read: “We appreciate the overwhelming show of love and support that everyone has shown. The Robin Hood will be closed for the immediate future. “