Prince George's County fire officials investigating a garage explosion that killed two persons Tuesday night charged a man yesterday in connection with what Fire Chief M.H. (Jim) Estepp described as "the largest fireworks manufacturing plant ever discovered" in the county.
Saul Taylor Jr., 38, of 3505 43rd Ave., Colmar Manor, the house where the garage is located, was charged with possession and manufacture of explosives without a license and manufacture of fireworks without a license. He was being held in lieu of $200,000 bond at the County Detention Center.
Estepp said the garage contained more than 100 pounds of chemicals used to make fireworks, about 1,000 large fireworks casings and about 2,000 smaller fireworks. If all the explosives had detonated simultaneously, everything within a 75-foot radius -- including several houses -- would have been "leveled," he said.
The blast blew a hole in the garage's roof and pushed its brick walls out.
Estepp said at a news conference that fireworks were found in both the garage and the house and that together they had the explosive power of about two sticks of dynamite. The estimated "street value" of the confiscated material was $25,000 to $50,000, he said.
Estepp called the explosion "a graphic example of how dangerous seemingly harmless fireworks can be." He said the fire department will "vigorously prosecute anyone found to be in violation of the law."
The smaller types of fireworks that investigators found, so-called M-80s, which have casings about 1 1/2 inches long and one-half inch in diameter, are extremely popular, Estepp said. They are also extremely dangerous, and it is not unusual for them to cause users to lose a finger or even a hand, he said.
The chief said investigators believe that at least one of the two persons killed in the explosion -- Lillian Thompson, 56, and her nephew, Richard Thompson, 25, both of 2015 First St. NW -- was making fireworks when a fire broke out about 8:20 p.m. He said a third person, 13-year-old Kevin Duckett, Lillian Thompson's grandson, also was in the garage at the time.
The two adults apparently tried to put out the blaze while the boy ran to a neighbor's house, Estepp said. He said firefighters, called by neighbors, arrived within three minutes and were within 50 feet of the garage when the explosion occurred. It took five minutes to extinguish the subsequent blaze, Estepp said.
Estepp said Taylor, who he said owns the two-story brick house, was outside the garage when the explosion occurred.
He said neither county police nor fire officials had received any complaints about fireworks or other explosives at the Taylor house. Some neighbors said yesterday it was well known in the neighborhood that there were fireworks there. Residents of the house often set off fireworks at night around the Fourth of July, neighbors said.
Estepp said he found it "difficult to believe" that the amount of fireworks found would be for individual use and that "it is my personal belief that they were not for neighborhood display."
Vincent Downing, who lives around the corner at 4301 Newton St. and whose backyard adjoins the Taylor garage, said the frequent fireworks displays bothered his dog to the point where he no longer kept the dog out at night.
A group of women on the front porch of the Taylor house yesterday declined to comment on the incident.
Neighbors also said that a large number of people lived at the house and that it received a steady stream of visitors. Robert Joyner, who lives directly across the street at 3504 43rd Ave., said there was "a lot of traffic in and out of there at all hours of the night."
If convicted of all the charges against him, Taylor could be imprisoned for up to 26 years and fined $16,000.