LAFD captain burned in an explosion is suing building owners, vape shops

A Los Angeles Fire Department captain who was badly burned in a May 2020 explosion in a warehouse in downtown LA has sued the owners of the building and a steam accessory store located there, alleging dangerous activities, premises liability and negligence .

Victor Aguirre and his wife Claudia Aguirre filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday against property owner Steve Sungho Lee and his various businesses, as well as the operators of Green Buddha and Smoke Tokes, a smoke and steam shop at East 3rd Street warehouse where the explosion took place. Twelve firefighters were injured.

After a criminal investigation by the Federal Office for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Los Angeles Police Department, they were charged with more than 300 charges.

The lawsuit alleges that Victor Aguirre, a 20-year fire service veteran and father of two, suffered catastrophic injuries in the explosion, including severe burns to much of his body and “devastating third degree burns” to his hands. The burns caused such damage that each of his fingers had to be partially amputated, and he has had surgery since 25. He was in the hospital for two months and was able to return to the fire department in an administrative role.

Aguirre, according to the lawsuit, was permanently disfigured, disabled and left with a life of pain and suffering. The lawsuit accuses the warehouse owner and the operators of the vape shops of having broken the law, illegally and unsafe storage of large quantities of dangerous materials, keeping them in an “ultra-dangerous condition” and negligently calling Aguirre and other firefighters to the scene .

The business owners “negligently stored an explosive mix of hazardous substances. You are responsible for the terrible injuries that Mr Aguirre and the other 11 firefighters sustained, ”said lawyer Patrick Gunning, who represents the Aguirres.

The explosion occurred in what is nicknamed “Bong Row” of downtown due to the concentration of retailers selling rolling papers, butane, and other consumables involved in vaping, tobacco, and the extraction of THC for marijuana vape cartridges are connected. Those in the legal cannabis industry say many of the stores on 3rd, Boyd, and Wall Street supply butane and other items in bulk to unlicensed cannabis dealers.

In a report, the fire department found that the “excessive amount” of nitrous oxide and butane canisters in Smoke Tokes had fueled the fire that damaged several other buildings. The report also revealed that the LAFD had not inspected the building for at least a year before the explosion. Fire chief Ralph Terrazas has admitted that an inspection would likely have resulted in the confiscation of many of the materials that contributed to the explosion.

In the lawsuit, Gunning alleges that the firefighters believed they were fighting a “routine, limited ventilation fire” but a “popcorn-like” sound was heard shortly after entering, which quickly escalated before a “jet-like rumble” began . Aguirre, who was up on the roof, was the last of the building; the massive explosion engulfed him and other firefighters as they climbed the turntable ladder of a fire truck.

Video and still images captured Aguirre, who was on fire as he descended the ladder after the explosion.

None of the defendants named in the lawsuit could be reached for comment.

In November, the owners of two smoking and steaming supplies stores closed pleadings with prosecutors urging their stores to pay more than $ 100,000 to the city.

As part of the agreement with the Los Angeles Attorney’s Office, Smoke Tokes and Green Buddha are required to pay the Los Angeles Fire Department approximately $ 127,000 to compensate the agency for the investigation.

In addition, Raheel Lakhany and Shafaq Sattar, who each owned a company, agreed to cease operations at the scene of the fire. Their companies advocated no objection to four violations of municipal regulations, which included improper storage of combustible materials and other violations of fire safety regulations.

The charges against Lakhany and Sattar were dismissed as part of the deal.

The charges against the builder Lee are still pending.

The Times employee James Queally contributed to this report.

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