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Brother: Chris Pekny, killed by explosion at gender reveal, was 'larger than life'

Heather Yakin
Times Herald-Record

FERNDALE – These should have been joyful days for Christopher Pekny and his family. 

He and his fiancée, Jennifer Edwards, had learned just before Christmas that they were going to have a son. Chris would be a first-time dad, and he was excited. 

“He had his wild side when he was younger. He was really settling down,” his older brother, Peter Pekny Jr., said. “I saw, just this past year, how much he was changing, and the hope that he had.” 

Saturday night, Chris Pekny, 28, finished a shift at the family’s Robin Hood Diner in Livingston Manor. He told his father, Peter Pekny Sr., that it was a good night, and he’d see him the next day. The family had a party planned, which would include the announcement of Chris and Jen’s baby’s gender. 

Brothers Christopher Pekny, Peter Pekny Jr., and Michael Pekny

Just after 11 a.m., as Chris was working on a device for the reveal, the materials he was working with exploded. Chris suffered a lethal head injury. Younger brother Michael, 27, suffered a serious leg injury that required emergency surgery. 

“My heart breaks for my brother Michael, because he lost not just his brother, but his best friend,” Pekny Jr. said. “Right now, he’s laying in a hospital bed, and Chris ain’t in a bed next to him.” 

The two did everything together, Pekny Jr. said. “It was Chris and Mike, one entity.” 

Chris would have turned 29 on Tuesday.

The family is devastated, the community in mourning. 

“I don’t wish this on anybody,” Pekny Jr. said. 

Peter Pekny Jr. stands for a portrait at the Robin Hood Diner in Livingston Manor, NY on Tuesday, February 23, 2021.

Big man with a big heart

Chris Pekny was big. 

“He was six-five, without his work boots on, 250 pounds,” Pekny Jr. said. “He’d do anything for anybody. If you were stuck in a ditch three hours away, he’d be there in two hours.” 

As kids, Peter said, he gave his younger brothers a rough time, As an aspiring wrestler, Peter said, he was pretty rough on Chris. That changed as Chris grew.  

Peter remembers a high school football game where Chris was on the kickoff team, and went flying down the field to make a tackle. 

“He hit him so hard, he split the kid’s helmet in half,” Pekny Jr. said. 

Christopher Pekny

Chris was also a hard worker. He worked at the diner, cooking, waiting tables, and as a bartender. The three brothers just finished putting in a new floor and trim molding for a rental unit for their grandmother.  

Chris also worked at Liberty Concrete, where he earned the nickname “Frankenstein” because of his stature and his strength.   

Chris was also mechanically inclined, and liked to work on diesel engines. 

“I’ve watched him pick up entire engines off the ground and move them because they were in the way,” his brother said. 

Vigil candles and flowers are lit at the Robin Hood Diner in Livingston Manor, NY on Tuesday, February 23, 2021.

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“He called himself a certified parts-changer,” Pekny Jr. said. “He knew the ins and outs of everything, for tractors, especially pickup trucks.” 

He had eclectic taste in cars, and always wanted a 1968 Fastback Mustang, Peter said. He had a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle. 

“Picture this guy coming out of a Volkswagen Beetle,” Pekny Jr. said. “Mustang, Beetle, pickup truck – but that was him.” 

When tragedy struck

On Sunday, Peter Pekny Jr. was in the Village of Florida in Orange County videotaping a basketball game for the school where he teaches. Family started leaving him messages telling him he needed to come home, but not saying exactly why.

At first, he thought they wanted him home early for the party. 

“I slowly started to realize something was wrong,” he said.  

He thought it might be their grandmother, who’s in her 90s, and he headed back to Ferndale.  

“When I got to the driveway and I saw all the cars, who was standing out in the driveway,” he said, “I knew.” 

This isn't the first time their parents have grieved a child, Pekny Jr. said. When he was still a child, his sister, Katie, died after falling into a pond. 

A twinkle in his eye

There is a photo of the Pekny brothers standing on a dock. They’re all smiling, but Christopher has mischief in his eyes.  

Moments after that photo was snapped, Peter said, Chris pushed him into the lake. 

A second photo shows Peter in the water and Michael on the dock, both laughing. 

“He was larger than life, figuratively, and stature-wise, literally,” Pekny Jr. said. 

Chris was kind and quick-witted, and someone people looked up to. 

“This was something that couldn’t have happened. He knew what he was doing,” Pekny Jr. said.  

Peter said the family has gotten condolences and support from the community, and from around the world. Relatives in the Czech Republic reached out. Locally, people have lit memorial candles outside the Robin Hood Diner.

“This isn’t just going to rock a family,” Pekny Jr. said. “It’s going to rock a whole community.” 

hyakin@th-record.com