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Neighbor: All I could think to say, was ‘Stay with me’

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WISH) – ‘I could see there was something very wrong at the Longworth residence,’ said one Richmond Hill neighbor who ran toward the Longworth home after the November 2012 explosion.

Forty-six-year-old Mark Leonard’s is the first suspect accused in the blast to stand trial. Monday marked the second week of testimony.

Neighbor Bryan Hollingsworth said he and his wife ran over to the Longworth’s home after the explosion, because he ‘could see there was something very wrong at the Longworth residence.’ Hollingsworth described what once was a two story home that was ‘no more,’ explaining the home had collapsed, so that it was now just about seven feet tall. He said the home literally ‘pancaked on itself.’

Hollingsworth said as they ran over, his wife asked – “Is anybody in there?” They heard a knocking sound on the wood, from the collapsed home. He said they heard Dion Longworth say, ‘I’m in here and I’m trapped.’

They found Longworth eventually using a flashlight, saying they could see him through a hole that was about the size of a basketball. They tried to get him out by chipping the drywall around it, but it was like concrete.

Hollingsworth said Longworth asked him over and over, ‘How is my wife, and can you help me?’ Hollingsworth said he didn’t have the heart to tell the trapped man that the house no longer had an upstairs, where Longworth’s wife had been.

Hollingsworth said he told Longworth, ‘Just stay with me,’ explaining he could see a glow behind Longworth, that was a fire that was spreading through the home. He said he tried to keep Longworth focused on him.

Hollingsworth said at this point, his wife ran to get another neighbor, retired police officer Stephen Pridemore, to help as well. Hollingsworth said it was in those moments, he was alone with Dion Longworth, explaining it was so quiet – he could hear fire, he could hear screaming in the background, and he could even hear Dion rummaging through his basement, still asking quite calmly, ‘How is my wife, and can you help you?’

He said, “All I could think to say was, ‘Stay with me.’”

At that point, the other neighbor, Stephen Pridemore had gone to get firefighters from the front of the house, who instantly radioed for help from the back of the house. Hollingsworth said it was at that point, he could feel it start to get very hot. He said he tried to keep Longworth looking at him, so he wouldn’t turn around to see the glow of fire.

Soon, Hollingsworth said one of the fireman said firmly, “you are excused,” meaning – you need to get out of here now. Hollingsworth said he could feel the pads on his fingers start to burn, and he could see the siding on the home oozing off. He said he could also hear his wife say, ‘Bryan, get out of there.’

Hollingsworth said once he turned to look back at the Longworth resident, it was completely engulfed in flames. It said it happened in a matter of seconds, explaining when he heard the firefighters, the volume of their voices, the inflection, he could tell they were ‘very, very panicked.’

Dion and Jennifer Longworth died in the explosion that night.

More than 80 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Mark Leonard is accused, along with others, of plotting to blow up his girlfriend’s home in the Richmond Hill neighborhood in order to collect insurance money.

Leonard’s girlfriend, Monserrate Shirley, his half brother Bob Leonard, and two other men were charged in connection to the crime as well.

Monday, jurors heard again from neighbor after neighbor, who described what they heard, saw and felt that evening. Prosecutors say it gives jurors a feel of the scope and magnitude of the explosion.

In the second week of testimony, jurors heard from neighbors living the closest to the explosion site: Monserrate Shirley’s home on Fieldfare Way.

Most of those neighbors had their homes so badly damaged, they couldn’t be repaired and had to be demolished then rebuilt.

Those neighbors also testified more about seeing the white cargo van near Monserrate Shirley’s home, that they say they associated with the defendant, Mark Leonard.

Neighbor, by neighbor, described when they saw that white van the day of the explosion.

That day, one neighbor testified he walked past the home around 10 AM, and there were no vehicles in the driveway and things looked ‘closed up,’ which wasn’t normal. That neighbor said he usually sees a car, or a large white van in the driveway. About 20 minutes later, he said a white van drove past.

Another neighbor testified he’d seen the white van around 2:00 PM that day, and had said he’d seen two men with the van, that he didn’t recognize – and were not defendant Mark Leonard.

He said they left hurriedly, explaining ‘it was clear they wanted to get out of there.’

Another neighbor and his wife testified about getting a call from Monserrate Shirley after the explosion. Edgar Salas said shortly after the explosion, his wife received a phone call. He said it was Monserrate Shirley.

He eventually got on the phone, because he said his wife wasn’t understanding what Shirley was saying. He described Shirley as crying and hysterical. Salas said he couldn’t understand Shirley either, so he told her, I’m happy you’re alive, your house is gone, and when you’ve gathered yourself, drive home.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said each of these neighbors represents an important part of the case for jurors to hear.

“They’re hearing all of this for the first time, and I think it’s important as they absorb all of this, they hear all of it. I think the jury has been very attentive,” Curry said.

Court will start on time at 9:30 AM Tuesday. Defense attorney Diane Black had asked for a continuation of trial, because one of the state’s expert witnesses said he’d made a mistake on a calculation for gas flow rates, which would change some of the evidence as far as calculations.

Black told the judge, ‘this is a crucial element to their case, therefore, our defense,’ as she argued to delay the trial.

The judge told her he would not delay, but would hold an evidentiary hearing with the witness before he testifies.

In week one of testimony, jurors heard from neighbors and first responders who also described what they heard saw and felt in the moments after the blast.