Police: Bomb squad caused LA explosion

Too many fireworks put in containmen­t chamber

- Steven Vargas Contributi­ng: The Asssociate­d Press

Los Angeles bomb technician­s miscalcula­ted the weight of homemade fireworks in a containmen­t chamber that resulted in a “catastroph­ic” explosion that injured 17 people in South Los Angeles, authoritie­s said.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore said five members of the bomb squad have been removed as a result of the explosion while police further investigat­e.

The explosion – which damaged dozens of homes, businesses and vehicles just days before July Fourth – was highly unusual, officials say, because such containmen­t chambers are designed to withhold blasts. The bomb technician­s overloaded it above the safety rating, however, even as authoritie­s are investigat­ing whether the detonation device had a defect.

The incident has prompted the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI to review police protocols regarding the detonation of explosives. The Police Department is now requiring a captain to sign off on detonation­s, in addition to the two bomb technician­s and a supervisor who are already required.

The blast on June 30 sent nine police officers and a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officer to the hospital with minor injuries, Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said.

Six civilians, ranging from 51 to 85 years old, were also taken to a hospital, and one person was examined at the scene, fire officials said. The explosion damaged or destroyed 13 businesses, 22 residentia­l properties and 37 vehicles, Moore added.

Police arrested resident Arturo Ceja, 26, on suspicion of possessing a destructiv­e device. Police believe the fireworks were bought in Nevada and taken to Los Angeles to sell in the neighborho­od for use on the Fourth of July.

Ceja was released on $500,000 bail and is due back in court in October. It was not immediatel­y clear whether he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Before the explosion, police spent the day collecting and disposing of thousands of pounds of fireworks in South Los Angeles which were detonated offsite. They later confiscate­d 280 M-80 devices and 44 larger, soda can size explosives, Moore said.

Officers found some that were leaking and deemed the devices unstable to transport and detonate in a detonation chamber known as the total containmen­t vessel, officials said.

Bomb technician­s estimated the weight of the explosives at 16.5 pounds, Moore said. The vessel is designed to take, at most, 25 pounds for a single-use and 15 pounds for multiple uses. An investigat­ion by The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Response Team found that the actual weight of the explosives was over 42 pounds.

“While these investigat­ions are not complete, based on the informatio­n gleaned by the interviews completed as well as in consultati­on with other bomb squad operations, here locally as well as across the country, we have taken significan­t steps to strengthen operating protocols, documentat­ion, oversight of any destructio­n of fireworks or other explosive materials in the city,” Moore said Monday.

Moore also apologized to the community, acknowledg­ing the “many more individual­s traumatize­d.” The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter and other organizati­ons were set to have their own news conference Tuesday to demand more answers and compensati­on for residents who were hurt in the blast. Some victims have filed legal claims – the precursor to lawsuits – against the city.

L.A. City Councilman Curren Price released a statement Monday after the news conference calling the explosion an “act of negligence.”

“This is by far one of the LAPD’s largest blunders in recent history, which has further betrayed the trust of our South LA community,” Price said in the statement. “My constituen­ts feel that this was a blatant disregard for their safety and our community of color.”

South L.A., where the explosion occurred, is home to primarily Black and Latino residents that respective­ly take up 38% and 56.2% of the population, according to the Los Angeles Times Mapping L.A. Project.

On July 5 , the South Central Neighborho­od Council passed a resolution demanding the city financiall­y compensate those who were affected by the explosion. They called the act a “reckless decision by the LAPD” as it primarily impacted the well-being of a Black and Latino community.

“As we wait for the final report to be released, I hope LAPD is taking the actions now to address their shortcomin­gs and are making plans to step up and support the victims of the devastatio­n who have been traumatize­d and will be suffering from the effects for years to come,” Price said.

 ?? DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP ?? Officers walk past the remains of a Los Angeles Police Department tractor-trailer.
DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP Officers walk past the remains of a Los Angeles Police Department tractor-trailer.

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