Gas Leak From Illegal Hookup Tapped Into Con Ed Supply Line Suspected Cause Of Explosion In Rented Bronx House Used As Indoor Pot Farm; Blast Kills FDNY Battalion Chief, Leaves 20 Others Injured; Two Tenants In Custody
- A second suspect has been arrested in connection to the illegal marijuana grow house that exploded and killed an FDNY chief, sources told DNAinfo New York.
Garivaldi Castillo, 32, of Washington Heights, is said to be a “controlling agent” of the second floor hydroponic pot farm inside 304 W. 234th St. that blew up , killing Battalion Chief Michael Fahy, who was a father of three and a rising star in the fire department.
Castillo was spotted going in and out of the building by undercover police who were probing allegations of a marijuana growing factory there days before it exploded, sources said.
He was being held on marijuana possession charges tied to the pot farm, sources said.
Julio Salcedo, 34, was arrested hours after the blast on an unrelated warrant for failing to show up in traffic court on a November 2014 arrest for driving without a license.
Salcedo was seen fleeing the grow house when firefighters, police officers and Con Edison initially responded to a report of a heavy gas odor about an hour before the explosion.
Salcedo is described as a low-level player in the operation, who apparently was paying the monthly rent in cash.
But Castillo is believed to be a pivotal figure who literally had the keys to the various locks to the plastic-lined second-floor pot house, where police also discovered several 55 gallon fertilizer containers.
Authorities believe the gas leak stemmed from an illegal hookup inside the building to avoid running up large Con Edison bills that would attract attention from the owner or the utility.
See, generally, Marijuana Labs Spawn Lethal Explosions Across the Country (An explosion that destroyed a New York City home and killed a firefighter has drawn attention to marijuana-making methods that are legal in many states — but can also be lethal).
From an earlier story:
- [F]irefighters were checking a report of a gas leak — believed to be caused by a faulty illegal gas hookup for the pot house — at about 6:22 a.m. when they discovered the second-floor apartment was tightly locked, virtually sealed with plastic and there was a blue, 55-gallon drum filled with fertilizer on the landing and several more in the basement, sources said.
They determined it was likely a hydroponic marijuana growing lab with propane tanks, sources said.
Emergency responders and Con Ed workers shut off the building's main gas feeder line, evacuating the building and others nearby after finding the pot house and the gas odor.
Emergency responders led by Fahy were outside when the building exploded, according to FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
Investigators believe a large amount of the volatile gas inside the building had suddenly ignited.
Several ESU officers, one a highly skilled emergency technician, tried to save Fahy. The 17-year veteran, whose father was also an FDNY battalion chief, was pronounced dead at New York-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital, officials said.
Nine firefighters, six police officers, three Con Edison workers and two civilians were also injured, Nigro said. They were not seriously injured.
Investigators believe those behind the marijuana grow house illegally tapped into the gas line to avoid running up unusually large gas bills that would arouse suspicion. "It would have tipped off someone that there was something going on there," a source explained.
The building's owner has another Tibbetts Avenue house, but apparently only rented out the building that blew up, according to sources.
Officials were told no one lived in or stayed in the apartment, even though it was rented, sources said, adding that because the rent was paid on time, the owner had no incentive to check on his tenant.