Retired Black teacher one of two people dead after LAPD fireworks blast

"We know this explosion would never have happened in a more affluent community,” Ron Gochez, the Vice President of the South Central Neighborhood Council, said.

The Los Angeles Police Department shattered a South LA neighborhood in June when a bomb squad vehicle exploded with seized illegal fireworks inside. 

Two men died and 17 people were left injured after what officials said was likely a weight miscalculation. At least 88 residents have been displaced and unsure when they will be able to return home, Daily News reported on Thursday. City Councilmember Curren Price is renting apartments for some of these individuals while “uncounted others living in hotels or with family,” the outlet reports.

One of the deceased was retired 72-year-old middle school teacher Auzie Houchins, who was confined to a wheelchair. According to reports, he lived in a home that was badly damaged by the explosion. His family said Houchins had diabetes and wasn’t receiving proper care at the hotel where they had been staying. 

“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, the daughter of his longtime partner, Lorna Hairston.

He died on July 22, according to his longtime partner, Lorna Hairston. The L.A. County coroner reportedly listed one of the causes of Houchins’ death as sudden cardiac dysfunction or a heart attack.

“It was just too much, too much,” Hairston told Spectrum News Channel 1. “He’s not the kind of man to accept any change.”

The other individual who died was also an elderly man with health issues. Neighbors identified him as Ramon Reyes. He too was removed from his home when the roof collapsed on him after the blast.

“In both cases when they were removed from their homes, the police or whoever evacuated them, they didn’t take out the oxygen machine, oxygen tanks so that led to some problems,” said Ron Gochez, the Vice President of the South Central Neighborhood Council.

“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.”

More than a month since the botched detonation and residents are still waiting to return home.

“If you look at this neighborhood, every single house here is boarded up still. Why would it take more than a month to put in new windows?” Gochez said.

According to Gochez, more people may die if the city doesn’t act fast. 

“We have to make sure we organize to make sure the city continues to pay for what they caused. We know this explosion would never have happened in a more affluent community,” Gochez said.

The city has made available a $1 million fund for displaced residents, but victims and activists say there is a lack of urgency in shelling out financial compensation. Several residents have filed a claim with the city over the explosion, according to the report. More than two dozen families have been left homeless by the blast. Many claim the city hasn’t been forthcoming about what will happen next. 

Councilman Price released a statement that read, in part:

“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.

Price went on to say that his 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.”

The statement continued, “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.”

Meanwhile, LAPD Chief Michel Moore reportedly said LAPD officials “do not believe (the men’s deaths were) the result of the explosion, and were due to more long-standing underlying health issues.”

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