More than 17,000 high-powered, illegal fireworks valued at $12,500 were seized this week in two raids by the Prince George's County Fire Department, making two of the largest confiscations of illegal fireworks in the state in the last 10 years, fire officials said.
Michael E. Yodichkas, who lives near Laurel, was arrested in one of the raids, which seized $10,000 in fireworks. He was charged with illegal possession and sale of fireworks. Fireworks seized included mortars, roman candles loaded with concentrated explosive powder and dozens of four-foot-long sky rockets, commonly used in professional displays.
Fire department spokesman Tony DeStefano said that Yodichkas had stored most of the fireworks in a warehouse on Good Luck Road in Greenbelt for about two weeks, and had distributed a photocopied, eight-page catalogue complete with fireworks descriptions, prices, illustrations and a phone number to place orders.
The two confiscations brought to eight the number of seizures made in Maryland this year, much fewer than the 128 seizures during the same period last year, fire officials said.
"So far there has not been as much activity this year, but we rarely see explosives as powerful as mortars," said state Deputy Fire Marshal Al Ward. Most confiscations are estimated at hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars, and usually involve less powerful fireworks, he said.
Yodichkas was arrested after undercover fire investigators, who had seen a copy of the catalogue, met with Yodichkas and purchased about $100 worth of fireworks about 12:30 a.m yesterday, DeStefano said.
Yodichkas then led the fire officials to his apartment, where they seized about 2,500 fireworks, and to the Greenbelt warehouse where he turned over an additional 7,000 fireworks.
Most of the explosives were purchased from a "reputable manufacturer in Ohio," said county Fire Department Bureau Chief Stan Poole, but added that storage of the fireworks created "an extremely dangerous situation."
"We were very fortunate," Poole said. "The slightest mishap and it could have been disastrous."
In a second incident, county fire officials arrested Michael J. Baxley, 36, of 9604 51st Place in Branchville, and charged him with possession of illegal fireworks, after finding 8,000 illegal fireworks in a vehicle parked outside his house.
According to fire officials, Baxley operated a legal fireworks stand in the District, but violated the law by transporting fireworks to his Maryland residence.
All fireworks are banned in Prince George's, Montgomery and Baltimore counties. Only sparklers are permitted in the rest of the state.
If convicted, Baxley faces a fine of up to $250, and Yodichkas faces maximum fine of $1,000 fine and six months in prison for both offenses.