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Officials now say 1 killed, 1 critically hurt in explosion

July 30, 2010 |  3:27 pm

Authorities now say one person was killed and another was critically injured in an explosion at a South Los Angeles metal works paint company early Friday.

Fire officials at the scene initially reported that two people were killed.

Investigators determined that the explosion in the 900 block of East 59th Street was caused by illegal tampering with a gas line.

John Kades, a captain with the Los Angeles County coroner’s Office, said the deceased man died from electrocution. He described him as a male Latino about 35 years old, who died at California Medical Center.

Capt. Steve Ruda of the Los Angeles Fire Department said the second victim was thrown from the building and seriously injured. He was severely burned and is in critical condition at the same hospital, Ruda said.

The identifies of the two victims were not released.

The South Los Angeles building was occupied by JL Spray, a company that does paint coating of metal products and is owned by Jaime Lara, said Elizabeth Alvarado, manager of the firm.

The company’s gas had been turned off Thursday, Alvarado said. Alvarado said she spoke to Southern California Gas Co. employees when they came to shut off the gas.

"They told me the bill wasn’t paid," she said.

When Alvarado arrived for work at 8 a.m. Friday, the building had been destroyed in the explosion.
She said Lara’s brother, Juan, had come to work with his brother early in the morning and stayed outside to do some cleaning while Jaime went inside to turn on the company’s paint oven.

Juan saw the explosion, she said.

Alvarado said she did not know who else was inside the building at the time.

A Gas Co. official said a gas line that had been illegally tampered with allowed an unregulated, high-pressure flow of gas into the building. It was unclear Friday who had tampered with the line.

However, the incident is “not a homicide, it is a severe accident,” said Dennis Lord, a Gas Co. spokesman.

One of the two victims was electrocuted when a live wire fell on his vehicle, said Capt. Steve Ruda of the Los Angeles Fire Department. The truck was parked next to the building's gas meter and contained tools and equipment that could be used to tamper with the meter, Ruda said.

The man could have been trying to leave the scene and did not see that an electrical wire had fallen onto his truck, Ruda said.

The two victims were found outside the building after the 6:50 a.m. explosion and taken to the hospital, he said.

Firefighters were able to knock down the fire almost immediately and entered the building to search for a possible third victim. Search dogs did not find any other victims.

On Friday afternoon, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilwoman Jan Perry visited the site and praised firefighters for their quick work.

Perry, whose district includes the South Los Angeles neighborhood, said there have been three industrial accidents in the area in the last month.

-- Sam Allen

Click here for a photo gallery of the explosion.

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