A marijuana wax lab operation led to Monday’s massive explosion inside unit 11 at the Caballo Peak Apartments at 3100 Canyon Road.
Joseph Gonzales, 26, lived in the unit with his 7-year-old son, who was uninjured in the blast. Gonzales was injured and airlifted to a burn center in Denver. His son’s mother apparently retrieved the boy.
Gonzales had reportedly been processing the marijuana wax for hours in his bedroom with the door and window shut while his son slept in a second bedroom separated by the living room, according to reports.
Police arrested Gonzales’ brother, Juan Gonzales, 28, in front of unit 11 a couple of hours after the explosion. He is charged with two counts of resisting/evading or obstructing an officer and one count of bribery/intimidation/retaliation of a witness. He was taken before Los Alamos Magistrate Judge Pat Casados and released on his own recognizance.
The investigation into the explosion is still active. Police released a statement Tuesday saying more arrests are imminent, but declined further comment.
Caballo Peak Apartments Resident Manager, Marcus Hall, was one of the first to arrive at the scene Monday and described what he saw.
“I woke up because the blast shook my bed even though my apartment is on the other side of the complex,” Hall said. “A neighbor had grabbed a couple of fire extinguishers and put out the fire coming from unit 11 before the fire department arrived.”
Hall explained that officials said the bedroom and bathroom were filled with vapor from butane canisters used in marijuana waxing. Gonzales apparently went in the bathroom and lit a lighter, which sparked the explosion.
Hall said the force from the explosion raised the ceiling about 6 inches throughout the apartment and lowered the floor by several inches. The two bedroom unit has two bathrooms and the explosion blew both bathroom doors off the hinges and propelled them through the bedroom windows taking the glass and frames with them onto the sidewalk outside.
“When I arrived, Joseph was barefoot and walking around in circles in front of his apartment, his arms were out to his sides and they were blistered and peeling and his foot was bleeding,” Hall said, adding that he was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. “His face was unhurt and he appeared to be in shock.”
For public safety, police evacuated the building for several hours where the explosion occurred as well as the adjacent buildings. Crews from the utilities department were dispatched to disconnect water and gas to the building, as well as electricity to the single apartment where the explosion occurred, as a safety precaution.
County officials from the Building Division were called out to assess structural damage. At this time, all utility services have been restored to the building.
In addition to public safety precautions, LAPD and LAFD closed the apartment complex area to residents and visitors while they conducted an investigation into the possible cause of the explosion and whether any criminal activity had taken place.
An emergency shelter had been prepared at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church by the Red Cross in case any residents were displaced overnight, however, residents were allowed home at 4:30 p.m., Monday.
The damaged apartment where the explosion occurred continues to be secured and part of an active police and fire investigation.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is cracking down on this relatively new trend of marijuana wax labs across the country. An investigator who arrived in town Wednesday told Hall that apartments are blowing up monthly where he is from in the San Fernando Valley in California.
“We also had a lady living in one of our apartments a few months ago who has since left but she had the same ash type clumps all over her bathroom walls, tub and floor that we found in Joseph’s bathroom,” Hall said. “It took us a week to get rid of the potent marijuana/smokey odor from that woman’s apartment. We had to use three coats of paint in the bathroom and two coats on all the other walls.”
He said that he and his maintenance crew will be on the alert for signs of ash on the walls, potent and smokey marijuana odors and butane canisters in any of his apartments in the future.
“This is such a dangerous practice and the explosion at our apartment could have been so much worse,” Hall said. “I hope everyone learns from this and keeps on the alert and notifies the authorities if they see anything suspicious.”