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Second worker dies in South L.A. explosion where investigators say gas line was tampered with [Updated]

July 30, 2010 | 11:55 am

A second worker died Friday as the result of an explosion at a South Los Angeles metal works building as investigators determined it was caused by a gas line that had been illegally tampered with.

The tampering allowed an unregulated, high-pressure flow of gas into the building, a gas company official said.

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

Location of explosion on Florence area of South L.A. Click for a larger map.

Lord said a valve near an industrial gas meter, which is normally used to allow maintenance on the gas meter, was tapped into by someone, allowing gas to be used illegally.

[Updated at 11:59 a.m.: One of the two victims was killed when an electrical wire fell on his vehicle and he was electrocuted, said Capt. Steve Ruda of the L.A. 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.

Jesus Lima, 32, of Maywood, who was subleasing a space in the building, said the gas was disconnected there Thursday because the bill had not been paid. He said the owner went to pay the bill Thursday afternoon.

Lima said he was unsure who was in the building Friday morning and was waiting to hear more from investigators. He said the building was used for a powder-coating business, where iron products and steel gates were coated in various ovens.

Lima said he was storing his welding equipment and other tools in the building.]

Fire crews responded to the 6:51 a.m. explosion in the 900 block of East 59th Street, where two victims were found outside the building and taken to a hospital, where they were pronounced dead, said Capt. Steve Ruda of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Firefighters were able to knock down the fire almost immediately and entered the building to search for a third victim believed to be buried in the debris. A search dog entered the building first, then a cadaver dog, Ruda said. But neither was able to find the missing man.

-- Sam Allen in South Los Angeles

Map shows location of building in the Florence area of South Los Angeles. Source: Mapping L.A./Google maps