LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A man from southern Los Angeles pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to federal charges of illegally transporting tons of explosives, including dangerous homemade fireworks, that were set off by police in a massive explosion that resulted in the a specially developed containment vehicle destroyed and injured 17 people.
What you need to know
- Most of the explosives were purchased from Area 51, a fireworks dealer in Pahrump, Nevada
- ATF found that the suspect, Arturo Ceja III, was storing 32,000 pounds of fireworks in his back yard
- The LAPD bomb squad found that some of the self-made fireworks with explosive materials could not be safely transported and would therefore be destroyed on site with a containment ship
- During the destruction of the equipment, the entire ship exploded, sending 17 residents and first aiders to hospitals and damaging 22 homes, 13 shops and 37 vehicles
Arturo Ceja III planned to sell the July 4th celebration fireworks across the neighborhood, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
In the case of Ceja’s indictment, no further court dates were immediately scheduled on Tuesday.
The federal complaint alleges that Ceja, 26, made several trips to Nevada in late June to purchase various types of explosives – including air shows and large homemade fireworks containing explosive materials – which he transported to his home in rental cars.
Most of the explosives were purchased from Area 51, a fireworks dealer in Pahrump, Nevada. The lawsuit states that fireworks in California can be sold for four times what buyers in Nevada pay for them.
Ceja told investigators that he bought the homemade explosives – made from cardboard paper, hobby detonator and packed with explosive flash powder – from a person who, according to the complaint, sold the devices from the trunk of a Honda in the Area 51 parking lot.
“Ceja did not have an ATF explosives license or permit of any kind that would authorize him to transport aerial photo fireworks or homemade fireworks made from explosive materials, including but not limited to lightning powder,” said an affidavit filed with the Federal Office by a special agent and attached to the complaint.
On June 30, after receiving notice that Ceja’s backyard fireworks were being stored, Los Angeles police officers called his apartment on East 27th Street. In the house, the officers allegedly found more than 500 boxes of commercial fireworks in large cardboard boxes.
The initial investigation by the local authorities estimated that 5,000 pounds of fireworks were found. However, the ATF later found that Ceja was actually storing 32,000 pounds of fireworks in his backyard.
The fireworks were “stored outside and in an unsafe manner, namely under unsecured tents and next to cooking grills,” says the complaint.
In addition to the commercial fireworks, the initial search of Ceja’s apartment resulted in the discovery of more than 140 other homemade fireworks – usually referred to as M devices of various sizes – as well as explosive-making components, including hobby detonators that matched the fuse, a homemade mortar shell wrapped in aluminum foil was, according to the affidavit, was discovered in the residence.
While the fireworks were being removed from Ceja’s house, an LAPD bomb squad discovered that some of the self-made fireworks containing explosive material could not be safely transported in a densely populated area due to the risk of detonation and would therefore be destroyed on site with a complete containment ship.
During the destruction of the equipment, the entire ship exploded, sending 17 residents and first aiders to hospitals and damaging 22 homes, 13 shops and 37 vehicles.
So far, 14 households have been able to move into their homes in the south of Los Angeles. The city has rented 29 long-term units for households awaiting structural repairs.
The LAPD has begun implementing new procedures due to the explosion, including the required presence of a commanding officer in the event of future detonations.
The city council unanimously ordered a report from the department on the “malfunction” and how the population should be better protected in the future. The public prosecutor’s office was also instructed to provide adequate compensation for property damage and personal injury.
The authority received 145 claims for damages, 62 were still being processed by July 28th.