Los Angeles bomb squad miscalculated weight of fireworks before huge explosion, police chief says
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 Monday.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michael Moore said five members of the bomb squad have been removed as a result of the explosion while they 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 who wasn’t transported was instead 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 off-site. 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 to be 16.5 pounds. without using a scale, 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 during the news conference.
Moore also apologized to the community members who were impacted by the explosion, acknowledging the “many more individuals traumatized.” The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter and other organizations will have their own news conference on Tuesday to demand more answers and reparations for the 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.”
“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.