Arturo Ceja III, 26, was charged with transporting explosives without a license after 32,000 pounds of illegal fireworks were allegedly found in his home on June 30, which led to a botched bomb squad explosion.
The charges allege that Ceja transported the fireworks from “Area 51” in Parhump, Nevada, to Los Angeles on multiple trips.
Ceja was originally arrested on state charges, which were changed to federal charges after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) took custody.
The Los Angeles Police Department and ATF continue to investigate the failed Bomb Squad detonation in South L.A. after confiscating the fireworks from the home.
“Clearly what happened here was a failure,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said of the operation. “We’re trying to find out why.”
Of the fireworks confiscated, 10 pounds of homemade explosives were found and placed in an LAPD Bomb Squad blast-resistant vessel. The fireworks were analyzed with X-ray machinery and a mechanical arm that cut through the firework devices, as the bomb technicians deemed them too dangerous for transport.
After indication that the firework products could not be transported, the detonation was done in the streets of a South L.A. neighborhood, eventually damaging surrounding cars and homes.
The door of the Bomb Squad container was found in a yard located blocks away from the detonation site, as crews blocked off the neighborhood for multiple days, searching for debris and securing the area.
Chief Moore said officers had gone door-to-door before the detonation, asking people to evacuate their homes. After the explosion occurred, first responders found several residents in their homes, confirming 17 people experienced non-life-threatening injuries from the blast, including nine officers, while nine families were displaced from their homes.
“We’re working very fast to make sure they have housing for tonight and the next several nights,” Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price said in a press conference in South L.A.
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas confirmed that the extent of injuries suffered were cuts, scrapes, ear-ringing and dizziness and all were transported to local hospitals.
Some families affected by the explosion have created crowdfunding campaigns, accepting donations that would go toward medical bills and other losses.
Creator of one of the Go Fund Me campaigns, Denise Torres, said the explosion occurred right outside her family’s two homes on the block. Another campaign from an L.A. woman named Valeria Guerrero said her family was also affected, with their home “red tagged” and car destroyed.
“The force of the explosion destroyed not only the container but both of our houses resulted in a total loss the houses were both Red Tagged,” Torres said in an update from the campaign website. “The damages ended up in both of my families becoming homeless and losing all of their clothes & valuables. Both my grandparents were injured, my aunt’s family and her two babies were left without anything.”
Law enforcement officials stated that there would be programs available to aid families affected, while Councilmember Price said some displaced families were staying in either hotels or shelters while the investigation process continued.
Chief Moore said the steps and protocols taken by the bomb technicians will be reviewed as the incident continues to be investigated.
“This will be a full, complete and comprehensive review from the very top to the very bottom of every step taken and every component,” Moore said. “We have to look at how has the service of that vehicle been? What’s the age of the vessel? Is there anything from an engineering standpoint that that rating was no longer effective?”