Witness says box exploded when California blast victim opened it

A California day spa owner killed in a deadly blast this week opened a cardboard box that exploded — and investigators found a nine-volt battery, a cellphone and loose wires among the debris, according to federal court documents filed Thursday.

The explosion Tuesday at Ildiko Krajnyak’s day spa blew out walls and windows of the facility, heavily damaging the business, which was on the first floor of a two-story medical office building in Aliso Viejo, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, according to Orange County officials.

The blast injured three women, including two patrons of the day spa.

The two patrons had just finished their spa treatments when they approached the front counter to pay, according to a federal affidavit. One victim said she noticed lots of mail piled up on the floor, along with three to four brown cardboard boxes, the affidavit said.

Krajnyak picked up one of the boxes and placed it on the counter, according to court documents.

“As soon as Krajnyak opened the box, Victim 2 stated that the box exploded and recalled being blown backwards by the explosion onto the floor,” the affidavit said.

At the scene, investigators also discovered melted material that appeared to be duct tape, the affidavit said.

Krajnyak’s business partner and ex-boyfriend, Stephen Beal, 59, was charged Thursday with one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Federal authorities said investigators found a “destructive device” at Beal’s Long Beach residence, but he has not been charged in connection with the blast.

Beal’s detention hearing, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, was continued until Monday, and he will remain in custody until at least that time, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

Beal was not asked to enter a plea on Thursday, nor will he be asked to enter a plea on Monday, Mrozek said.

Beal’s attorney couldn’t be reached on Thursday.

Court papers: Victim’s ex-boyfriend contacted authorities after blast

Beal’s girlfriend saw the news report of the explosion and encouraged him to contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Department because she knew he leased space in the medical office building, and that Krajnyak was his ex-girlfriend and business partner, the affidavit said.

About two hours after the blast, Beal contacted the sheriff’s department. Sheriff’s deputies went to Beal’s Long Beach residence and he gave them consent to search his home, the affidavit said.

Inside, investigators say they found items including a seven-foot tall rocket, rocket-making equipment, and at least three containers of black powder, according to court papers.

Investigators also found two improvised explosive devices and three firearms in Beal’s home, as well as “precursor chemicals, energetic materials, e-matches, variously sized cardboard and modified rocket tubes,” the affidavit said.

Beal told investigators he is a model rocket hobbyist, but hadn’t touched the rocket-making equipment on his property in 14 years.

Beal also told investigators he had ordered the precursors and accelerants from the internet between the late 1990s and 2004. He also made fireworks, including mortars, from the late 1990s until September 11, 2001, but stopped making fireworks “because he did not want to give the wrong impression,” the affidavit said.

According to court papers, “Beal said he saw media coverage of the explosion and claimed he did not have material to create an explosion that large.”

In amended court records, authorities said the items recovered from Beal’s home are “not consistent with that of a model rocket.”

Beal also told the FBI he and Krajnyak met approximately 1½ years ago through an online dating app and began dating, the affidavit said. The two opened the day spa shortly thereafter; the business later moved to the Aliso Viejo building.

The couple’s personal relationship eventually “began to cool due to disputes over the exclusivity of the relationship and financial issues,” Beal told federal agents, according to the affidavit.

The couple’s personal relationship ended by February or March 2018, but they had remained business partners, according to Beal.

Beal told federal agents he paid the roughly $1,500 month in rent for the Aliso Viejo property and half of the spa’s operating costs, according to court papers. Beal said he would have to lend Krajnyak money to cover all the expenses some months; other months she made enough to cover the costs, the affidavit said.

‘It’s just all so sudden’

California secretary of state documents indicate Beal is the secretary and chief financial officer of a company called I&S Enterprises. Krajnyak, of Trabuco Canyon, is listed as the CEO, and the address for the business is the same as that of the day spa rocked by the explosion.

Police had said Wednesday that the blast was not an accident. The two patrons of the day spa are expected to survive. A third woman suffered smoke inhalation and was treated and released at the scene.

“At this point, our working theory is that this explosion was caused by a device,” said Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.

Police have not commented on a motive, and Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes said Wednesday investigators hadn’t nailed one down, but an FBI spokesman ruled out terrorism. Nothing indicates any threats were made before the blast, Orange County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Dave Sawyer said earlier.

In a brief interview Thursday with CNN affiliate KABC, Krajnyak’ son, 20-year-old Keanu Vestil said he was grateful for outpouring of support.

“It’s just all so sudden,” he said. “A lot of this is still very raw, and still really hard to process for everybody.”