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10 Policemen Hurt When Fireworks Cache Explodes

June 27, 1989|ALAN CITRON and ANDREA FORD | Times Staff Writers

Ten Los Angeles policemen investigating a fireworks hazard were injured early today when a series of explosions ripped through an apartment house in Koreatown, spewing fireballs into the street and blowing the windows out of a neighboring three-story apartment building.

The first explosion occurred at 6:10 a.m. as bomb squad experts were inspecting a first-floor apartment inside the white, wood-frame building at 943 S. Menlo Ave. A larger explosion followed shortly afterward, and more than two dozen firefighters battled the resulting blaze.

Police said they will seek a charge of bombing with injury against the occupant of the apartment, identified as Gary Wexler, 39. Police said they became suspicious of Wexler when he arrived at the emergency room of Queen of Angels Hospital around 3 a.m. today, suffering a hand injury caused by an earlier explosion.

"Obviously this is a classic case of what can happen when fireworks are misused," said police spokesman William P. Frio.

The two bomb squad specialists and eight other policemen who were standing outside the house when the explosions occurred were treated at area hospitals for cuts and burns to their faces, chest injuries and hearing problems. Police said they do not know what set off the explosions. They were also unable to identify the kinds of explosives found in the apartment or why they were being stored there.

The residents of the six-unit apartment house were evacuated shortly before the blasts occurred, but several onlookers described the scene as extremely frightening.

Hector Marquez, a Los Angeles fireman, was standing outside the house when the explosions rocked the neighborhood. Marquez said that one of the fireballs nearly took his head off.

"I ran like hell," he said. "Thank God, I'm short."

Unhui Harris, a neighbor, said the explosions felt like an earthquake. "All of a sudden something blew up," she said. "I saw the policemen fall down. . . . Then the windows on the side of my apartment were blown out. Thank God, the explosion only damaged the windows."

Neighbors described Wexler as a loner who regularly burned incense inside his apartment. They also said he had a reputation for experimenting with fireworks.

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