More than 300 criminal charges have been filed against the owners and operators of four downtown Los Angeles buildings and three businesses for alleged fire code and safety violations following a massive fire and explosion in the Toy District that injured a dozen firefighters, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Friday.
“The fire and explosion that ripped through the Boyd Street property caused our firefighters great suffering — and came perilously close to costing their lives. We’ll do everything we can to hold the owners and operators of buildings and businesses responsible for complying with our fire and safety codes,” the city attorney said in a written statement. “The public is counting on us to protect them from a potential catastrophe.”
Among those facing charges is Steve Sungho Lee, 56, who owns the building at 327 E. Boyd St., where investigators say the May 16 fire started.
Lee — who is set to be arraigned Nov. 19 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom — could face up to 68 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted as charged, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
The businesses Smoke Tokes, Green Buddha and Bio Hazard, which are housed in the building, are also among those charged.
The fire was reported at 6:26 p.m. and crews were inside when a “significant explosion” shook the neighborhood around Smoke Tokes Warehouse Distributor, “a supplier for those who make butane honey oil,” as firefighters were inside the building, Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott said soon afterward.
In a video posted several days later on YouTube, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said firefighters had noticed that conditions were “rapidly deteriorating” and began an immediate retreat to the street.
“During the transition out of the building and off the roof, 11 firefighters and the aerial ladder of Truck 9 were engulfed by a massive fireball that stretched entirely across Boyd Street, scorching the cab of Truck 9,” the fire chief said. “This prompted a mayday call to be broadcast, causing dozens of firefighters to come to the aid of their fallen colleagues.”
A 12th firefighter was also taken to the hospital, with more than 230 firefighters eventually responding to the blaze that took 1 hour and 42 minutes to extinguish, the chief said.
At least one of the firefighters remained hospitalized until July, according to the LAFD. Earlier this week, some of the injured firefighters met with doctors and nurses who treated them at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center.
“The Boyd Street Fire was a devastating incident that could have easily turned into an epic tragedy for the LAFD,” Terrazas said in a statement issued by the City Attorney’s Office announcing the charges. “Thanks to the work of our arson investigators, the Fire Prevention Bureau, the LAPD and the City Attorney’s Office, we are one step closer to holding accountable the individuals who may have contributed to the circumstances that precipitated this fire and, hopefully, be able to prevent similar incidents in the future.”
The charges were filed after investigations of the downtown Los Angeles buildings and businesses by the Los Angeles Fire Department and its Arson Unit, the Los Angeles Police Department and the city’s Department of Building and Safety, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
The misdemeanor charges stem from alleged violations of state law and the city’s Municipal Code, along with failure to comply with orders for alleged fire code and building code violations, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
Illegally stored hazardous materials were found in the building and three other properties owned by Lee, with the most egregious violations occurring at the property where the fire began, the City Attorney’s Office alleges.