Man Charged With Marijuana Possession Amid Investigation Into Bronx Explosion

The Wall Street Journal - October 01, 2016

by Mark Morales

A man suspected of running a marijuana-growing operation in a house that exploded in the Bronx, killing a New York City fire chief, was charged Thursday with two counts of criminal possession of marijuana. Garibaldi Castillo, 32 years old, still could face murder charges related to Tuesday’s deadly explosion, prosecutors said in Bronx Criminal Court, where Mr. Castillo appeared in front of Judge Cori Weston before he was returned to custody. His attorney couldn’t be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, prosecutors and authorities released new information about the investigation into the explosion.

James O’Neill, New York Police Department commissioner, said Thursday that the blast was caused by an illegal gas hookup that leaked and sparked. Inside the home, located at 300 West 234th St., in the Kingsbridge neighborhood, investigators found insulation over windows, blue pails of fertilizer, full-size helium tanks and padlocks on all three bedrooms, a law-enforcement official said. Marijuana plants were found on both floors of the home and in the basement, the official said.

Authorities had been investigating the home for at least a month before the explosion, another law-enforcement official said.

A second man was arrested in Cliffside Park, N.J., on a warrant for petty crime in connection with the grow house, a law-enforcement official said. The man was believed to be a tenant in the Bronx house and was seen leaving the area after the explosion, the official said.

He is expected to be extradited to New York, where he is likely to face charges similar to Mr. Castillo’s, officials said. On Tuesday, firefighters responded shortly before 6:30 a.m. to a call from someone who smelled gas coming from the home, officials said.

The firefighters discovered what appeared to be a so-called marijuana grow house in the residence and reported it to police, law-enforcement officials said. Firefighters and police were evacuating nearby buildings when the explosion occurred, officials said.

Michael Fahy, a battalion chief with the Fire Department of New York, was directing evacuation operations from the street when he was hit by flying debris and killed, officials said.

On Thursday, Chief Fahy, a 44-year-old married father of three young children, was promoted posthumously to deputy chief. “Chief Fahy achieved the rank of Chief Officer faster than any active member of the Department,” said Commissioner Daniel Nigro in a statement. “He was a rising star who accomplished so much during his 17 years with the FDNY, and is deserving of this promotion for his selfless dedication and service.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement: “Chief Michael Fahy was a very talented member of the FDNY who died protecting and serving our great city. His career was remarkable both for his selfless devotion to duty and his meteoric ascension in rank.”