San Francisco Chronicle
New details revealed in alleged drug lab explosion
Butane vapors from a home drug laboratory may have interacted with a dryer to cause a fiery eruption in San Francisco’s Sunset District last week, prosecutors said in court Wednesday, revealing new details about a blast that killed a woman, severely burned another, and landed a 53-year-old man in jail facing multiple felonies.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang granted a defense attorney’s request on Wednesday to delay the arraignment of Darron Price, the man charged with involuntary manslaughter, manufacturing a controlled substance, four counts of reckless burning, two counts of child endangerment and one count of elder abuse, along with allegations that Price “proximately” caused great bodily injury to one of the victims, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said.
On Wednesday morning, hours before Price appeared in court, the San Francisco medical examiner identified the woman killed as 51-year-old Rita Price.
Deputy Public Defender Sierra Villaran, who was appointed to represent Price, stood beside her client and placed her hand on his back during Monday’s tense court hearing. She emphasized that there is “so much to be learned” about the circumstances that led to the home explosion, and said that her office still needs to review an extensive body of evidence.
“What we do know here is that Mr. Price is going through what I can only describe as an unimaginable amount of pain and trauma from this incident,” Villaran said, adding that she wanted the opportunity to present the court with information about his character and why she believes he should be released from jail, a request that Assistant District Attorney Robert Perkins vigorously opposed.
Perkins sought a no-contact order to bar Price from communicating with his children, ages 14 and 17, who lived with him but were not home when the explosion occurred. He cited concerns about “potential witness tampering,” given that the two children may have known about the alleged drug manufacturing. Though Hwang did not grant the protective order Wednesday, he said the court would revisit the request on Friday.
In a news conference outside the courtroom, Villaran said that her office “vehemently” denied the accusations, and that what Price and his family were going through was “horrific.” Villaran said that at a bare minimum, she believed his children should be able to talk to their father “when they are facing what is likely the most difficult moment of their entire lives.”
“He has an incredible amount of love for them, and he is so concerned about them,” she said.
On Wednesday, attorneys on both sides seemed unclear about what was being manufactured in the Outer Sunset home that led to the deadly fire.
Jenkins saw the case as an opening to “send a clear message that the manufacture of dangerous drugs will not be tolerated in San Francisco,” according to a statement from her office. “This activity is not only dangerous for the individuals involved but entire neighborhoods as this case so tragically demonstrates.”
Price, a San Francisco resident, was arrested on Feb. 10. He is accused of manufacturing phencyclidine, known as PCP. The explosion sparked a fire that quickly engulfed the home, trapping and killing Rita Price inside.
A GoFundMe was set up apparently on behalf of a caregiver who worked in the home and reportedly escaped the fire. The Chronicle also contacted more than a dozen family members of Darron and Rita Price earlier this week. None responded to requests for comment.
Officials said that the child endangerment charges were related to two children who lived in the home.
Investigators recovered suspected butane tanks, ovens and other materials consistent with processing hash oil with volatile solvents at the scene, the DA’s office wrote.