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Explosions Still Ring in Ears of Neighbors

June 28, 1989|DARRELL DAWSEY | Times Staff Writer

Directing a pained squint at the gutted wood-frame building that only hours before had been his home, a disheveled Jack Caminiti leaned against a palm tree Tuesday as he pondered his future.

"All of my clothes, my belongings, my cane--everything is in there," lamented Caminiti, a resident of the Koreatown apartment house that was ripped apart by two explosions Tuesday morning. "Almost everything I own is gone. And I have no idea what I'm going to do. . . . I just wish I'd had time to grab something out of there."

Instead, Caminiti, who is partially blind, chose to save his most valuable possession--his life.

"The police came and banged on my door and helped me out of there," said Caminiti, who was wearing only the bathrobe and slippers he managed to throw on before fleeing. "They helped me out of there just before the place blew up."

Ten police officers were injured in the blasts, a pair of fireworks-related explosions that tore through the two-story Victorian house at 943 Menlo Ave.

Tenant Arrested

Gary Wexler, a tenant who police believe hoarded a large amount of fireworks that may have triggered the blast, was arrested after the explosion.

And now, milling about among the throng of neighbors, firefighters and police officers outside their charred home, Caminiti and his fellow tenants tried desperately to make sense of the incident--and of Gary Wexler.

"The explosion was like an earthquake," said Kim Dong Kim, 29, who lives next door to the apartment house. "It felt like a huge rumble."

Another neighbor, who declined to be identified, said he dropped to the ground as soon as he heard the explosion.

"I just fell," said the man, who was across the street when the building exploded. "I covered my head and stayed there for a few minutes. Then I got up and ran."

Unhui Harris, who lives in a nearby building, said she had just returned from church when she heard the explosion.

"I looked out of the window, and I saw four or five police cars," Harris said. "It all looked really suspicious. Then, all of a sudden, something blew up. I saw policemen fall down and glass go everywhere. I told my husband to call the Fire Department.

"Thank God only the windows were damaged. I thought it could have been much, much worse."

Added her husband, David: "I was in the (bedroom) when I heard it. I was worried it would hit this building, and all the apartments would blow up. I was shocked."

When told of Wexler's possible role, neighbors registered little surprise.

"Yeah, the (explosion) is hard to fathom," said Cliff Jones, 25, who lived on the second floor of the Victorian building. "But (Wexler) being the one to do it isn't. . . . He's not altogether your average person. There was something very odd about him."

Jones recalled an incident about three months ago when he heard another explosion--a much milder one--from Wexler's apartment.

"I went downstairs, and he was standing naked and dripping wet in the doorway of his apartment," said Jones. "He claimed he was in the shower, and a butane lighter had blown up in his face. . . . He was really strange; even some of my friends who had passed him in the hall commented on him."

Romeo Acosta, a neighbor who lives in apartment building across the street from Wexler's, said those who lived outside the Victorian building almost never saw him.

"But if he did it, he's stupid," said Acosta. "People could have been killed."

Tenants of the gutted apartment house agreed.

"It's incredible," said one, Kenneth Himes, 46, who had left on an errand only minutes before the first explosion. "The more I think about it, I ask: 'How did we all not get killed?' "

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