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LAPD miscalculated fireworks weight before South LA explosion

Los Angeles Police miscalculated the amount of fireworks they placed in a containment container before detonating them and causing a massive explosion that destroyed part of a southern LA neighborhood in June, according to a new report from federal investigators.

“This was caused by an overload of the [total containment vessel] with more explosives than the TCV was designed for, ”said Asst. Special Agent in Charge Michael Hoffman, of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in a closed-door meeting with local residents Monday evening. “That’s what caused the failure.”

Hoffman said the ATF had ruled out other causes of the explosion, such as degradation of the containment vessel over time or a malfunction of its door, and determined that the “overload” of the vessel was the only one. cause of the explosion which destroyed dozens of houses. , cars and businesses.

Hoffman said the LAPD containment vehicle was designed to handle repeated detonations of 19 pounds of TNT equivalent at a time, or a single detonation of 33 pounds of explosives before being returned to its manufacturer for analysis.

However, investigators determined that technicians from the LAPD bomb squad accidentally loaded and detonated 39.8 pounds of explosives in the containment vehicle on the day of the blast, Hoffman said.

He said the agency was “absolutely certain” of his findings.

LAPD chief Michel Moore, who also spoke at the closed-door meeting, said the fireworks placed in the containment vessel were not weighed with a scale, but watched by the technicians working on site.

He said several members of the bomb squad have been removed from the team and will not be returning.

The June 30 explosion in the 700 block of East 27th Street, just days before the July 4 vacation, injured 17 people – including 10 LAPD agents, one ATF agent and six civilians – and damaged or destroyed 13 businesses, 22 residential properties and 37 vehicles. police said.

The explosion displaced dozens of people, forcing them to move to hotel rooms paid for by the city as authorities scrambled to clean up the mess. Many residents remain displaced, some houses in the neighborhood being deemed uninhabitable. Others continued to live in damaged houses.

Two elderly residents of the block who were among the displaced have since died. Authorities attributed their deaths to illnesses and natural causes, although family members and activists said the explosion caused significant stress and was clearly a contributing factor to their deaths.

Arturo Ceja III, a 26-year-old resident of the neighborhood, pleaded guilty in federal court last month to unauthorized transportation of explosives from Nevada to California. Federal officials said Ceja had stored around 16 tonnes of fireworks in the backyard of her family’s home – which the LAPD discovered after receiving a tip.

Moore said Monday evening that the LAPD “separated every step” of the operation to safely remove the fireworks from the area, and reviewed the process officers undertook to secure the area prior to the detonation. .

Moore said procedures were followed before the detonation and evacuations were carried out. Residents dismissed the claim, saying they received few warnings or mixed messages about the need to leave the area before the blast blew up windows for blocks and caused much damage. more important closer to the explosion.

Moore said the decision to use the full containment vessel on the residential block was also in accordance with protocol.

Moore said the problem occurred when the material was loaded into the ship, and LAPD staff estimated the weight of the explosives instead of physically weighing the material.

Moore said a post-explosion assessment found that “the LAPD protocols, our training, our standards, were not strong enough and needed to be improved, and we are committed to doing so.”

Moore said the LAPD will no longer use a full containment vessel to detonate fireworks in residential areas. It will also require that all explosives intended for detonation are first physically weighed and that “checks and balances” be in place to ensure these calculations are correct.

Moore declined to provide the names of the officers involved in the errors that led to the explosion, saying the blame lay on him. However, he also said that an investigation into the actions of some agents was still ongoing.

Moore offered his condolences to those affected by the blast.

“To every parent, to every son or daughter, to every child, to every business owner, to everyone who has been affected by this terrible accident, I’m sorry,” Moore told the crowd. “I’m sorry you’re going through this. “

Moore said members of the media and community activists were not allowed to attend the meeting because he didn’t want protesters and strangers to disrupt it or make it difficult for residents to get to the information that the police and ATF agents were there to provide.

Police officers checked the driver’s licenses of people at the gates of the All Peoples community center to see if they lived in the neighborhood, annoying activists and some of the residents who wanted media and activists allowed in.

After the meeting, a resident, Juana Oceguera, said she felt “worse than before”.

She said she had documents, laptops and other items stolen from her apartment, which she has not returned to since the explosion. She’s still in a hotel.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “Supposedly, the police were taking care of our street.

She said the police were “protecting those responsible” by not revealing the names of the officers who made the miscalculations. She said she was frustrated not to be home because of the “absurd” actions of the police officers involved.

“They reacted like kindergarten children,” said her husband, Ruben Martinez. “They acted like kindergarten kids in making this decision.”