50 Pounds of Dynamite Seized and Burned on Site

December 21, 2005

Los Angeles: Shortly before dawn this morning, Los Angeles police bomb technicians and Los Angeles City firefighters set fire to an estimated 50 pounds of dynamite concealed inside a commercial storage facility in Van Nuys.

“The decision was made to burn the dynamite in place because it was too unstable to move,” said LAPD spokesperson Lieutenant Paul Vernon. “The area was too confined for a robot or technician to examine the dynamite at close range. Moving the explosives would have posed a greater threat to the public.”

After careful consideration, bomb technicians and firefighters decided that burning the dynamite in place would be the safest way to neutralize the explosives. It is possible for dynamite to burn without detonating.

The day before, Tuesday, a single stick of dynamite had been destroyed by police when a man in North Hollywood told them it was placed in his freezer by his roommate. The dynamite was quite old and in a crystallized state, making it unstable. When detectives located the roommate, they found he was already in police custody for an unrelated theft charge. Later that morning, the roommate, James Wurth, 35, directed detectives to 7955 Haskell Avenue, as the source of the dynamite.

Guy Smith, 35, and Bill Brooks, 37, were walking out of the storage unit when detectives arrived. Brooks surrendered immediately, but Smith holed up inside the storage unit, which was cluttered with a variety items, some stolen. Brooks remained inside until about 8 PM that night.

Arthur Chornuy, 35, is Smith’s business partner. He arrived while police were still trying to get Smith to come out. Chornuy was able to help police convince Smith to give up. Officers then confirmed about 60 sticks of dynamite were in a small refrigerator inside the storage unit.

The firefighters created a protective cordon around the storage unit to keep adjoining properties from burning. The fire was ignited at 6:30 AM, Wednesday morning, and burned for about 40 minutes, creating a 500-foot pillar of smoke. The dynamite was fully consumed by the fire, as hoped, and firefighters put out the blaze in a few minutes.

As a precaution, the CHP closed the 405 Freeway between Sherman Way and Roscoe Boulevard for about one hour. Side streets were opened to help the traffic flow.

The FBI and ATF were on hand to assist in the investigation. The Major Crimes Division of the LAPD will investigate the case. Investigators do not believe the dynamite nor the suspects were involved in any terrorist-type activities.

Wurth, Smith, and Chornuy were charged with possession of an explosive, a felony under state and federal statutes, which carries significant jail time. Brooks was arrested for car theft when detectives linked him to a stolen car in the parking lot of the storage complex.