South Los Angeles fireworks blast contributed to 2 deaths, families say

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Tuesday, August 3, 2021
South LA blast contributed to 2 deaths, families say
Two families say the LAPD's botched detonation of fireworks at a South Los Angeles neighborhood just over one month ago contributed to the deaths of their loved ones.

SOUTH LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Two families say the LAPD's botched detonation of fireworks at a South Los Angeles neighborhood June 30 contributed to the deaths of their loved ones.

Residents of the neighborhood are now mourning their two neighbors, who each had pre-existing medical conditions, but died last month following the blast. The families say that powerful blast, which followed the detonation and rocked the neighborhood, contributed to their relatives' deaths.

The families of the two men who died in the weeks following the explosion tell Eyewitness News they're considering legal action.

"The families believe that it was the stress that was caused by the explosion that eventually led to the death of their family members," said Ron Gochez with the group Union del Barrio. "So, although they didn't die on the same day of the explosion, they feel that it was the explosion that caused their eventual death."

Two families say the LAPD's botched detonation of fireworks at a South Los Angeles neighborhood just over one month ago contributed to the deaths of their loved ones.

One man who died has been identified as Auzie Houchins, 72. He lived in a home that was badly damaged by the explosion. Lorna Hairston, the wife of Houchins, says he was an LAUSD teacher and lived in South L.A. his whole life. She was in their home when the blast happened.

"He doesn't take any kind of change and being usurped like that from the home for three weeks, just sitting there in the room with nothing to do - pretty bad," she said.

"He was born in that house, so then you uproot him and you had to take everything... How do you take from where you were born and then move?" said Marie Staples, Hairston's daughter.

Neighbors say the other elderly man who died is Ramon Reyes, whose roof collapsed on him following the blast.

South LA fireworks blast: Explosive material exceeded capacity of containment truck, LAPD says

At last, LAPD and ATF offered some answers following last month's illegal fireworks explosion in South L.A.

"They both were using oxygen and at the time they were moved from their home, when they were relocated, their oxygen machines or their tanks, were not taken with them," Gochez said. "And the hospital bed, a specialized hospital bed, was also not taken with them, so the families believe that also had something to do with their death."

Gochez says Houchins had diabetes and struggled following the blast because the city moved his family to a hotel without a kitchen. According to the L.A. County coroner, one of the causes of Houchins' death was sudden cardiac dysfunction, or a heart attack.

There are more than two dozen families impacted by the blast still not allowed home, including 15-year-old Madeline Heredia. She says the city hasn't informed them of where they'll go next.

"All we want is them to fix our house. We want to come back home," Heredia said. "We want to be having our own privacy. We want to have our own place to be ourselves."

South LA explosion: Community demands accountability from LAPD following fireworks blast

South L.A. residents expressed outrage and anguish at the community forum, and they want to know why the explosive devices were detonated by police in the neighborhood.

Eyewitness News reached out to LAPD regarding the two deaths, but has not heard back. City Councilmember Curren Price released the following statement:

"Over the course of the last 30 days since the LAPD illegal fireworks explosion occurred on 27th Street, my Office has been working closely with the victims of this tragic incident, addressing their various needs, including medical, emergency and longer-term housing and financial assistance, as well as other necessities.

What these victims have had to endure is reprehensible and unconscionable, and I repeat, it should have never happened in the first place. In the meantime, my Office has mobilized a multi-prong effort that includes the allocation of $10,000 grants to 25 pre-identified severely impacted households, as well as the repairs of more than 30 homes along 27th Street with most expected to be completed by the end of this month. In addition, my Office has helped to place 25 families, consisting of more than 80 individuals, into corporate housing where they will be allowed to stay as their homes are being repaired. Accepting this assistance by my Office will not impact a family's ability to file a claim or pursue legal action. I will continue to advocate on behalf of our community so that their claims with the City are expedited and they can begin to pick-up the pieces as they continue on their road to healing.

As our office received word of the recent loss of two patriarchs that lived on 27th Street, it struck my staff and I especially hard as Team Price has gotten to know them intimately. Our deepest condolences to them and we will continue to be there in their time of great need."