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2nd blast draws scrutiny to alternative-energy firms

Investigators are studying similarities between Tuesday's blast and a fatal 2010 explosion at companies owned by Timothy A. Larson, the father of victims in both incidents.

August 11, 2011|By Paloma Esquivel and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • Investigators examine a Sylmar warehouse where an explosion ripped through an alternative-energy company. Authorities are studying similarities with a fatal 2010 explosion at another company owned by the same man.
Investigators examine a Sylmar warehouse where an explosion ripped through… (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles…)

The scenes were oddly similar.

On June 17, 2010, an explosion at a Simi Valley alternative energy company blew off part of the roof and caused parts of the building to collapse. Employee Tyson Larson, 28, was killed and two others injured.

On Tuesday, another explosion rocked an alternative energy company in Sylmar, tearing a hole in the roof and shattering windows of neighboring businesses. This time Timothy Larson, a veteran Los Angeles city firefighter who has been on disability leave for several years, was critically injured. Another employee was also injured.

Investigators are now looking into the connection between the two companies, both of which are owned by Timothy A. Larson, the father of the two men.

In Simi Valley, the company operated under the names Realm Catalyst Inc. and Realm Industries. An explosion at the company in 2008 blew out the garage door of one of its nearby offices, said Bill Nash, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

Two years later, the massive fatal explosion forced firefighters to evacuate nearby areas and resulted in three citations totaling more than $5,600 after a California Division of Occupational Safety and Health investigation. Investigators said the company had used an air compressor and two pressure vessel tanks that it was not permitted to use, and that it used altered tanks in a way that were not "good engineering practice" and "not in accordance with" national standards.

The company was in the process of appealing the citations and a hearing was held Tuesday before an appeals board judge in Van Nuys, said Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Industrial Relations. She had not received a report on the results of the hearing as of Wednesday evening, she said.

Tuesday's explosion occurred while workers were transferring hydrogen gas from one cylinder to another, Monterroza said. Fire officials said the company was in the business of extracting hydrogen from water to create an alternative-fuel source.

A few months after his death, Tyson Larson was granted a patent for a process he and a co-inventor named William A. Stehl said could create energy from water molecules by using an electrical circuit to create resonance in the molecule. The energy they created, they said, could be used to power motorized vehicles.

Stehl was indicted last year in U.S. District Court in northern New York on charges of selling investors on a similar process to create energy from water. The indictment alleged that Stehl and a co-defendant sold investors on the process but used the money for personal expenditures.

That case is ongoing and was scheduled to go to trial in September.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has said it will investigate the latest blast. The Los Angeles Fire Department's arson/counter-terrorism section will also investigate.

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