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Criminal Justice

Man Arrested In South LA Fireworks Explosion Had 32,000 Pounds Of Explosives In His Back Yard

Crowd looks over firework explosion site on a blocked road in South LA.
A crowd gathered last Wednesday at the site of the firework explosion in South L.A.
(Austin Cross
/
KPCC)
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Federal agents have updated details of the fireworks stash that was discovered at a South L.A. home last week, now saying that 32,000 pounds of commercial grade fireworks and homemade explosives were found — much more than the 5,000 pounds originally reported by the LAPD.

Arturo Ceja III was arrested and charged with illegally transporting fireworks and other explosive devices following that botched attempt last week by Los Angeles police to safely detonate some of the stash. The resulting explosion left 17 people injured, destroyed the specialized police vehicle designed to contain the blast, and damaged homes and cars in the area.

Ceja was arrested Saturday by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and charged with transporting several tons of explosives from Nevada into California without a license or proper permit.

Responding to a tip last Wednesday, police found the massive stash in Ceja's back yard "under unsecured tents and next to cooking grills," according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

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The explosives included more than 500 boxes of commercial grade fireworks in large cardboard boxes and more than 140 homemade fireworks "typically referred to M devices of varying sizes" (think M-80). The criminal complaint noted that some of the explosives were "constructed of cardboard paper, hobby fuse and packed with explosive flash powder." A homemade mortar shell wrapped in tin foil was also found inside his home, according to the statement.

The complaint alleges that Ceja made several trips in late June to Nevada, where he purchased different kinds of explosives, including aerial displays and large homemade fireworks. He used rental vans to transport the cache to his home in South L.A.

Ceja told investigators he obtained most of the fireworks at Area 51, a dealer in Pahrump, Nevada, where he bought them from someone selling them out of the trunk of a Honda in the parking lot, according to the Justice Department.

Police received a tip last Wednesday that Ceja was storing fireworks in the back yard of his home on East 27th Street. The bomb squad ultimately decided that some of the homemade devices would not be safe to transport, and that it would be safer to detonate those in a specialized chamber known as a total containment vessel, or TCV.

Instead, the entire vehicle exploded, resulting in a major blast that injured both law enforcement and civilians and reportedly sent a 500-pound metal lid crashing into a home several blocks away. Authorities are still investigating what went wrong.

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Ceja is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Tuesday. The charges he faces carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.