Owner of DTLA building where blast injured 12 firefighters avoids jail

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The owner of a downtown Los Angeles building where an explosion injured 12 firefighters has been allowed to participate in a diversion program that allows him to avoid jail time and have all charges dismissed.

A court commissioner on Wednesday granted Steve Sungho Lee’s diversion request. He and his companies must pay more than $125,000 in investigation costs, ensure the property meets fire and building codes, and arrange fire department training.

Lee owned a commercial building on East Boyd Street in the city’s Toy District which caught fire on May 16, 2020. Firefighters had to run for their lives when a ball of flame shot into the building and burned a fire truck across the street.

Firefighters inside the building had to walk through a wall of flames he estimated to be 30 feet (9 meters) high and wide, and those on the roof descended a ladder which was engulfed in fire.

Firefighters said the building was a warehouse for Smoke Tokes, a wholesale distributor of smoking and vaping supplies, including butane oil, a concentrated cannabis extract that can be eaten, smoked or vaporized. Highly flammable butane is used in the manufacturing process.

Most of the injured firefighters have still not returned to work and one of them, Captain Victor Aguirre, was hospitalized for more than two months and all his fingers had to be partially amputated, according to a lawsuit. he sued the owners of the building and the business. .

Aguirre alleged that the area contained “hundreds of illegally and incorrectly stored butane canisters and thousands of illegally and incorrectly stored nitrous oxide cylinders”.

A report from firefighters concluded that the blaze, which spread to a nearby building, had been fueled by an “excessive quantity” of containers.

U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators concluded the fire started under a storage rack in the building and a worker with a lit cigarette was seen in the zone. The cause of the fire was ruled accidental.

However, city prosecutors filed more than 300 misdemeanor charges for violating fire and safety codes against Lee, his businesses, and business owners in the building and nearby properties. This included more than 160 counts against Lee and his companies.

If Lee fulfills all the conditions of his diversion program for two years, the charges will be dismissed.

“Mr. Lee will be deemed by law to have never been charged,” said his attorney, Blair Berk. there has been no discovery of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Lee or his companies.”

City Attorney Mike Feuer opposed the diversion for Lee, noting the severity of the fire, the injuries sustained by firefighters, and Lee’s alleged failure “to take action that could have mitigated the fire.” ‘extent of the fire’.

The owners of Smoke Tokes and another company, Green Buddha, agreed in November 2020 to pay $139,000 each to cover investigation costs and to vacate the building. The charges against them were later dismissed.


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