Newsday - October 01, 2016by Anthony M. DeStefano
Bronx prosecutors are considering filing murder charges in connection with the explosion Tuesday of a marijuana house in Kingsbridge that killed FDNY Battalion Chief Michael J. Fahy.
At a graduation ceremony for new police officers in Queens on Thursday, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said the gas main in the building had been tampered with, leaked and “then sparked,” killing Fahy and injuring 10 others.
The blast leveled a two-story attached brick house that investigators said was being used by Garivaldi Castillo, 33, and others as a place to grow what was described as tree-sized marijuana plants.
During a court appearance Thursday, Castillo was ordered held without bail on two felony marijuana possession charges by Bronx Criminal Court Judge Cori Weston.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Sciacca, who is deputy chief in charge of the homicide unit for Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark, told the court that Castillo was a flight risk because of the potential for a murder charge.
Sciacca described how the home at 300 W. 234th St. had been tightly sealed with insulation, apparently to keep the plants warm. There were also bins of liquid fertilizer in the structure, Sciacca said.
Prosecutors believe that the gas leak was likely caused by construction and alterations done at the house. NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said Thursday the remnants of the gas connection will be sent to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives laboratory in Maryland for forensic examination.
“Right now we are not there with any charges in terms of manslaughter . . . or whatever tampering there is,” explained Boyce.
Mark McDonald, a forensic gas expert not involved in the case, told Newsday that in the case of a gas leak a sealed house can be a deadly combination.
“It’s a possible perfect storm for an explosion,” McDonald said. “In a confined space, especially when it’s sealed, you will build up quickly to an explosive level.”
Castillo’s defense attorney, Francisco Serrano-Walker, couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
Also in custody in New Jersey is Julio Salcedo, 34, who investigators suspect was involved with Castillo in the marijuana operation. Salcedo is being held on a fugitive warrant on unrelated charges and was expected to be brought back to New York to faces marijuana charges late Thursday or Friday.
Law enforcement sources said the house had been under surveillance by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the NYPD for some time. About 7 a.m. Tuesday, the FDNY responded to a report of a gas leak at the building. Investigators said firefighters were met by Salcedo as he was exiting the building. About 40 minutes later, one law enforcement source said, the house exploded, killing Fahy who was hit by a large section of the roof.