A man in South Los Angeles was hit with federal charges last weekend after he stored 32,000 pounds of fireworks and explosive devices in his yard, some of which exploded and injured 17.
Arturo Ceja, 26, was taken into custody by federal agents on July 3 after a criminal complaint was filed for him transporting fireworks and explosives without a license.
Ceja appeared in federal court yesterday, and he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years if he is convicted on the federal charges.
Suspect Made Several Trips To Nevada To Buy Explosives
Federal agents said that Ceja made several illegal trips to Nevada in June to buy large quantities of explosives, such as large homemade products that contain dangerous explosives. He allegedly drove the thousands of pounds of fireworks in rental vans to East 27th St. in Los Angeles.
The police allege he bought most of the items from Area 51 Fireworks in Nevada. He said to investigators that the homemade items made of cardboard paper, hobby fuse, and packed with explosive powder were bought from a man’s trunk in the parking lot of Area 51.
LA police reported they found about 5,000 pounds of fireworks in the man’s backyard, but ATF agents found almost 30,000 pounds more. The explosives were found in nearly 500 boxes stacked up to 10 feet high. If the boxes of explosives had detonated, it’s possible there could have been a loss of life.
Federal agents also found 140 other homemade explosives inside the home. These included hobby fuses that looked like fuses on homemade mortar shells that were carefully wrapped in foil. These homemade devices were made with unknown levels of quality control and could have injured anyone who lit them.
The police noted that the storage of the fireworks outside was extremely unsafe in open tents, next to a grill. In addition, none of the fireworks were stored in approved magazines designed for the purpose.
Police Tipped Off By Neighbor That Ceja Was Transporting Explosives
Police were informed by a neighbor across the street that someone was storing large amounts of explosives in unsecured boxes behind his home.
Federal investigators took the fireworks to a secured location to be disposed of. Still, they eventually detonated much of the fireworks in a containment vessel which can blow up 15 pounds of explosive safely.
However, that blast injured 17 people, and 16 had to go to the hospital with minor injuries. Federal agents were continuing to look into what made the iron chamber in the containment vessel fail. The 500-pound door of the device was found 50 feet away in a neighbor’s yard.
There is an intense investigation underway to determine how the containment vessel was unable to withstand a relatively small explosion of 15 pounds. It’s possible that some of the injured with file claims against the LA police department.
Caja was placed under arrest last Wednesday but posted a $500,000 bond. However, federal agents picked him up soon after. They continue to question him about how he got so many fireworks transported to his home and stored them without proper buildings.
Ceja Also Accused Of Endangering Children
Ceja faces additional charges, such as child endangerment, as his 10-year old brother was home when the fireworks were on the property.
Police said Ceja was going to sell the fireworks in celebration of Independence Day.
Local police report more construction and selling of illegal fireworks in the last few years. Some of it may be connected to gang activity where they will sell the fireworks at triple the cost and use the money to buy guns.
Ceja has not yet been accused of storing the explosives or selling them to street gangs. But the police complaint said that he didn’t have a permit or license that would authorize him to transport that amount of fireworks.
Many In California Want Ban
Many cities around California reported over Independence Day weekend that dozens of fires in their communities were probably set by illegal fireworks. That’s why many in the community are calling for a home fireworks ban.
For example, the Oakland Fire Department said it had 60 fireworks-related calls on the 4th, including a warehouse fire that turned into three alarms. Also, the San Jose Fire Department answered at least 20 fireworks-related incidents on the 4th and gave out ten citations for illegal fireworks.
In just those three jurisdictions, there were 140 incidents that firefighters had to respond to that involved fireworks. So the argument is that those workers wouldn’t respond to emergencies and other fires if they’re responding to fireworks incidents.
Some believe the best way to enjoy fireworks on the holiday is to leave large displays to professionals to keep everyone safe.