West Kendall

Owner of destroyed marijuana ‘grow house’: I had no idea what was going on inside

 

An attorney for the owner of a ‘grow house’ that exploded Saturday said his client is in shock and had no idea her tenants were involved in illegal activity. She’s providing information to investigators.

hcohen@MiamiHerald.com

Marcia Hernandez, mother to two grown children, worries about the safety of two babies who were inside her Southwest Miami-Dade house that exploded over the weekend.

The force of Saturday’s blast was so powerful parts of the roof were raised before crumbling into a pile.

The home, 6355 SW 151st Pl., has been condemned by the county and is expected to be demolished Monday.

Hernandez’s attorney says her client owned the home as a landlord but had nothing to do with what was going on inside.

“She’s not concerned for her own safety but hopes these two kids are alive,” said Hernandez’s attorney, Daniel Espinosa, who is representing her against her insurance carrier, Citizens, to be compensated for the loss of her home.

Miami-Dade police say the home was being used to grow marijuana with hydroponics. Detectives found marijuana plants inside along with chemicals. Hernandez has not lived in the house since 2006.

The residents, identified Tuesday by the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Narcotics Bureau as Erisbel V. Herrera and Maylen Del Castillo, along with two young children, were inside the house at the time of the blast and fled in two vehicles before authorities arrived witnesses said. A neighbor reported spotting one of the suspects escaping while carrying a 6-month-old who seemed to be foaming at the mouth, Espinosa said.

Police spokesman Roy Rutland said Tuesday that the children are OK and that the state Department of Children & Families have been notified.

On Monday, tape to hold back the spread of fumes was attached to the room in which the baby slept and detectives were pulling marijuana plants from that room, Espinosa said.

Herrera and Del Castillo have not been apprehended and investigators are seeking the public’s assistance in locating them. The pair have arrest warrants for trafficking marijuana and child neglect.

Police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta said that the tenants had been illegally siphoning electricity. Stealing electricity is common among growers who seek to avoid detection by utilities who would become suspicious of unusually high usage from air-conditions and 1,000-watt light bulbs. The rigged wiring along with hot lights can spark fires or explosions.

“My client is not part of that criminal investigation and is assisting authorities,” Espinosa said. Herrera signed the rental lease on the property.

But Hernandez, who moved to another house in Miami-Dade six years ago, has been getting numerous calls after the blown-up home was seen on television.

“This was a strict landlord-tenant relationship and she has been renting to these same tenants for over a year,” the attorney said. “It’s very important that the public understand that Ms. Hernandez is in shock. This ‘grow house’ was owned by Marcia Hernandez and that’s a terrible association. She has a series of emotions — from anger to sadness. Sad that her childhood home has been reduced to rubble because of illegal acts and distraught her children can no longer live there.”

According to Espinosa, Hernandez’s son Rey Hernandez, now 22, had hoped to move back to the home.

Hernandez bought the house with her late ex-husband Reinaldo Hernandez in 1989, just before the birth of their son and daughter Tricia, now 19. After her former husband died and she remarried, the family moved to another home in Miami-Dade but kept the West Kendall house for “sentimental value.” She began renting it to a series of tenants in 2006.

Hernandez had no reason to suspect anything amiss with the tenants, who were meticulous about not raising suspicion, said Espinosa, an attorney with the Midtown-based firm Espinosa/Jomarron. “She never went to the house. The tenants would pay the rent on time, they were very proactive in dropping off those checks. The last thing they would have wanted was anyone visiting the home,” he said.

In 2011, Florida led the nation in the number of seized marijuana grow houses, with more than 800 homes, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. South Florida was the hotbed of activity.

If anyone has any information about the grow house renters, contact Miami-Dade Crimestoppers at 305-471-8477.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

Read more Afternoon Update stories from the Miami Herald

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