A man is being prosecuted as the person who had allegedly purchased the fireworks that the LAPD ended up detonating in a botched, controlled explosion that destroyed the containment truck, injured 17 people, and damaged nearby homes. Arturo Ceja III, a South Los Angeles resident, was arrested by ATF special agents, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Saturday in a press release.
He made several trips to Nevada last month to buy different kinds of explosives, “including aerial displays and large homemade fireworks containing explosive materials,” said federal authorities. Then he allegedly took these items back to his home in rental vans. Most were bought at the fireworks dealer Area 51 in Pahrump, Nevada, authorities said. Investigators noted that the possible resale value was four times in California what buyers could spend in Nevada.
According to federal authorities, Los Angeles police got a tip about Ceja storing fireworks in his backyard. Fireworks are illegal in the city. Ceja is accused of lacking an ATF explosives license or similar permit. All told, he allegedly had about 32,000 pounds of fireworks in his backyard. LAPD officers found more than 500 boxes of commercial grade fireworks in large cardboard boxes at the home on Wednesday, federal authorities said. Ceja is charged with illegally transporting explosives without a license. It is unclear if he has an attorney in this matter.
But federal authorities also acknowledged that the LAPD Bomb Squad determined that some of the homemade fireworks were not safe to be transported because of the risk they might go off with a densely populated area. The attempted solution was that officers would set off the fireworks inside a truck called a total containment vessel. Things did not go to plan. The blast destroyed the truck, injured 17 people (including nine LAPD officers and a federal agent), and damaged surrounding homes. This incident closed down several blocks amid the investigation, keeping people out of their homes and even their personal vehicles, and even sending a 500 pound lid several blocks away into a backyard.
The ATF is handling the investigation, an LAPD spokesperson told Law&Crime. The federal agency did not immediately respond to a Law&Crime request for comment.
Chief Michel Moore has said that protocols were followed.
“But something happened in that containment vessel that should not have happened, and we don’t know why,” he said, according to KTLA. “But we intend to find out why.”
Note: We added information on how police allegedly learned about Ceja, and on the charge he faces.
[Screengrab via KTLA]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]