Man arrested, charged after South L.A. fireworks explosion that left 17 injured

Local news

A man was arrested on federal charges of illegally transporting tons of explosives he purchased in Nevada that resulted in an explosion in South Los Angeles last week, damaging homes and injuring 17 people, the U.S. Department of Justice said Saturday. 

Arturo Ceja III, 27, was arrested by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and is being charged with transporting explosives without a license. He will remain in custody until an initial appearance in court, expected on July 6.

Ceja was first arrested by LAPD on suspicion of possession of a destructive device — but he posted bail. He was arrested again Saturday by the ATF.

Initial reports stated that Ceja had about 5,000 pounds of fireworks in his home. However, on Saturday the ATF determined that he was storing approximately 32,000 pounds of fireworks in his backyard.

Ceja told authorities he planned on selling the fireworks for four times more than what he paid for them.

Federal agents said Ceja admitted to making several trips to Nevada in late June to purchase various types of explosives which included aerial displays and large homemade fireworks containing explosive materials that he transported to his South L.A. home in rental vans, reports said. 

Ceja told investigators that he purchased the homemade explosives from a person selling them out of the trunk of a Honda in the Area 51 parking lot in Nevada, according to the complaint.

The explosives were made out of cardboard paper, hobby fuse and packed with explosive flash powder.

“Ceja did not possess an ATF explosives license or permit of any kind that would authorize him to transport either aerial display fireworks or homemade fireworks made with explosive materials, including but not limited to flash powder,” according to the complaint affidavit written by a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

After receiving a tip last Wednesday that Ceja was storing the fireworks in his backyard, Los Angeles police officers responded to the residence on East 27th Street. 

Upon arrival, officers found over 500 boxes of commercial grade fireworks in large cardboard boxes. 

“[T]he fireworks were stored outside and in an unsafe manner, namely under unsecured tents and next to cooking grills,” the complaint alleges. “None of the commercial fireworks or homemade fireworks, which contained explosive materials, were stored in an approved magazine.”

The initial search of Ceja’s residence also led to the discovery of over 140 other homemade fireworks as well as explosives-making components such as hobby fuse that matched the fuse on a homemade mortar shell wrapped in tin foil that was discovered inside the residence, according to the affidavit.

As the fireworks were being removed from the residence, the LAPD Bomb Squad determined that some of the homemade fireworks containing explosive materials were not safe to transport due to risk of detonation in a densely populated area and therefore would be destroyed on scene using a total containment vessel, according to the affidavit. 

During the detonation, the entire TCV exploded, causing a massive explosion that left nearby homes damaged and injured 17 people, including law enforcement personnel.

Sky5 was over the scene when the vehicle exploded, shaking the South L.A. neighborhood, leaving vehicles flipped and damaged and breaking windows.

Nearby residents said they felt the blast but at first thought it was an earthquake.

The charge of transporting explosives without a license carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.

The ATF, the United States Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General and the Los Angeles Police Department are investigating this matter.

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