Man pleads guilty to transporting fireworks later blown up in disastrous LAPD bomb squad operation
The man whose stockpile of fireworks ignited during a failed Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad operation — damaging a South L.A. neighborhood and injuring 17 people, including police officers — pleaded guilty on Monday to transporting explosives without a license.
Arturo Ceja III, 26, amassed around 16 tons of fireworks at his home on East 27th Street, making several trips to Nevada in June to purchase the explosives with the intent to sell them for higher prices in California.
Prosecutors said Ceja bought most of those fireworks at Area 51, a fireworks dealer in Pahrump, Nevada.
Among the stores of commercial grade fireworks were also homemade devices, prosecutors said. In a statement Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice said Ceja bought those fireworks — soda-can shaped devices packed with gunpowder — “from an individual selling the devices out of a vehicle.”
Ceja faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for transporting the explosives. His sentencing date had not been set as of Monday afternoon.
While Ceja brought the dangerous explosions to his neighborhood, LAPD officials have already taken responsibility for the apparent mistakes by bomb technicians that directly led to the blast.
When LAPD received a tip about Ceja’s stash of fireworks, they raided his home on June 30. As they worked to clear his home, bomb squad technicians decided it wouldn’t be safe to transport the fireworks, LAPD officials have said since the day of the blast.
Detonating them on site turned out to be disastrous, however. The technicians placed the explosives inside a total-containment vessel, but weren’t aware they had calculated their power incorrectly.
The result was when the bomb squad attempted to detonate the explosives, the vessel failed, sending a shockwave and shrapnel hurtling through the neighborhood.
While LAPD Chief Michel Moore already admitted that the bomb technicians failed in their calculations on scene, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is continuing to investigate how the explosion occurred.
Several LAPD officers standing nearby by the vessel when it exploded were injured. And more residents still in their homes or watching nearby were hurt, too.
Dozens remain out of their homes. Among those who were displaced were two elderly men who lived on the street for decades: Neighbors said Auzie Houchins, 72, and Ramon Reyes have since died. Family members and friends of the men have said they believe they died as a result of the stress from the explosion and its aftermath.
Residents on the street have filed a claim again the city.