Los Angeles bomb technicians misjudged the weight of homemade fireworks when they detonated it last month, triggering an explosion that shook a residential area and injured 17 people, officials said Monday.
Five members of the LAPD bomber have been relieved of field duties and face discipline if the investigation into the June 30 incident in South Los Angeles continues, Police Chief Michel Moore said at a news conference. The explosion came after the LAPD spent a day disposing of thousands of pounds of commercial fireworks at a home after authorities received a tip about the large cache.
Those fireworks were destroyed in a different location. Homemade fireworks were also found leaking inside the house, prompting the explosives disposal service to determine it was unsafe to move.
They examined them with X-rays and robotics and loaded them into the blast chamber, officially called a “total containment vessel.”
Without using a scale, as permitted by Los Angeles police procedures to avoid additional handling of the unstable devices, the bomb technicians estimated the weight of the homemade explosives and countercharge to be about 16.5 pounds.
“Based on information gathered at this point, it is believed that the net explosive weight contained in the [vessel] exceeded its rated capacity,” Moore said.
The explosion — which damaged dozens of homes, businesses and vehicles just days before July 4 — was highly unusual, officials say, as such containment chambers are designed to contain detonations. However, the bomb technicians have overloaded it above its safety rating as authorities investigate whether the detonator had a malfunction.
The truck-mounted chamber used on June 30 had been in use for a decade and was in use for the 42nd time, officials said.
Nine police officers and a federal agent were among the injured. An officer is still recovering at home, authorities said. The blast sparked criticism over the decision to detonate the explosives in the middle of a residential area.
Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price said he was “furious” by the findings released Monday.
“This is by far one of the LAPD’s biggest blunders in recent history, which has further violated the trust of our South LA community,” he said in a statement. “My constituents find this blatant disregard for their safety and our community of color.
“This tragedy could have been prevented and I am convinced that in a more affluent community, additional security measures would have been taken,” he added.
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Authorities believe the fireworks were purchased in Nevada with the intention of selling them nearby, days before the weekend of July 4.
The man arrested in connection with the fireworks, Arturo Ceja, 26, has been charged with possession of a destructive device. He was released on a $500,000 bond. He is due to appear in court again in October.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.