LOS ANGELES (AP) — The man who stockpiled illegal fireworks in his South Los Angeles backyard — which were later improperly detonated by police, likely causing a massive blast in late June that rocked a neighborhood and injured 17 people — now faces a decade in federal prison.
Five Los Angeles police bomb technicians overloaded a containment chamber with the illegal fireworks above the equipment’s safety rating on June 30 after authorities were called to a South LA home for a huge stash of fireworks ahead of the Fourth of July.
The explosion — considered highly unusual because such containment chambers are designed to withhold blasts — damaged dozens of homes, businesses and vehicles and prompted the Los Angeles Police Department to review its detonation procedures. The five bomb techs have been taken off their field duties and could face discipline.
The illegal fireworks were found at the home of Arturo Ceja III, who pleaded guilty Monday to one count of transportation of explosives without a license. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled for the 26-year-old man, who also goes by “Autron.”
Officer Mike Lopez, an LAPD spokesperson, said he did not have any update Monday on the agency’s investigation or potential disciplinary actions taken against the members of the bomb squad.
Ceja admitted to making several trips to Nevada in late June to buy fireworks — including homemade ones that were made out of cardboard and packed with explosive flash powder, federal prosecutors said.
Fireworks can be sold in California for up to four times the purchase price in Nevada, officials said.
Police discovered about 32,000 pounds (16 tons) of commercial-grade fireworks on Ceja’s property on June 30 after following up on a tip. Law enforcement also found 140 homemade fireworks and explosives-making components.
The bomb squad decided to detonate the homemade in the neighborhood — believing they were too unstable to transport elsewhere. They examined them by X-ray and robotics and loaded them into the detonation chamber, officially called a total containment vessel, without weighing them with a scale.
The technicians grossly miscalculated how much explosive material they were loading into the chamber and the entire vessel exploded.
Residents in the neighborhood have called for accountability and asked why some people were still in their homes, despite a door-to-door evacuation order. Some victims have filed legal claims — the precursor to a lawsuit — against the city.
Fireworks are illegal to sell or possess in Los Angeles and in unincorporated areas of the county.