Law enforcement officials said Thursday they expect to seek charges against two youths who survived Wednesday's pipe bomb explosion that killed Kevin Michael Ham during a pre-dawn escapade in Del Cerro.
Sgt. Frank Barone, who is heading the Metro Arson Strike Team investigation, said charges against Paul Giacalone and Daniel Smith, both 17-year-old classmates of Ham's at University of San Diego High School, could range from "nothing at all to manslaughter," a felony.
Manslaughter Count Doubtful
Barone said it was doubtful that the two would face the manslaughter charge but they might be charged with "possession of explosive destructive devices," also a felony.
The explosion occurred around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday while the three youths were driving along Madra Avenue in an affluent section of Del Cerro, not far from San Diego State University. According to police, they were heading to Smith's house, northeast of where the explosion occurred. Ham was holding the device out the window of the car.
The blast caved in the passenger door of the 1985 Ford Escort, blew out the back window and dislodged the other windows.
Deputy Coroner George Dickason said Ham suffered "multiple trauma, massive damage to all extremities, the chest and abdomen, and injures to the head as well. The right side of the body was basically shattered.
"If the bomb had gone off inside the car, the other two would have received injuries that would have been fatal. The (passenger side) door took a lot of the force. I don't know why he had it (the bomb) out the door, but he may have saved their lives by having it out there," Dickason said.
Ham was dead when paramedics reached the scene.
Barone said Smith and Giacalone, who were treated for minor injuries, were questioned by police and then released Wednesday night to the custody of their parents.
"We didn't handle them any differently from any other juvenile," he said. "We don't take a juvenile up to the hall, unless it's a capital-type crime. I think the world is safe with these kids staying with their parents."
He said strike team agents believe that Ham, Smith and Giacalone were responsible for another pipe bomb blast that caused extensive damage July 21 to a car on Wandamere Court in San Carlos.
"Our investigation indicates they are probably responsible for that," Barone said. "No, I'll say they \o7 are \f7 responsible for that." The youths are not suspects in any other pipe bomb explosions.
He said the three apparently learned how to make pipe bombs by reading a book called "Improvised Munitions Black Book," published by Desert Publications of Cornville, Ariz. He said a copy of the book was confiscated from Smith's home in the 6700 block of Bestwood Court in San Carlos. Strike team agents also confiscated from the home a large cache of explosives used to make homemade bombs.
A loaded AKM semi-automatic rifle was found near where the bomb went off.
Detective John Buono said strike force agents had been told by Giacalone and Smith that Ham, also 17, not only made the bomb that killed him but also owned the rifle.
Donald Smith, the father of Daniel Smith, said Thursday night that he was mainly upset with the media for using photographs of his son.
"They didn't have the right to do that," he declared. "I have an attorney coming over here right now to prove they didn't have a right to do that."
Smith disputed the nature of the incident as serious, saying: "It was just a mistake, and once the whole story comes out, people will see what a harmless mistake it was. The kids just made a mistake, like kids will."
He said he couldn't tell the "whole story" just now, that it would have to wait "a couple of weeks."
Earlier, Smith had said: "This is just a devastating thing, and the press is blowing it out of proportion, as they always do. They're sensationalizing it, as always."
Smith, a loan officer, was in Hawaii at the time of the accident. He returned late Wednesday to take custody of his son from police. He said he is on medical leave from work, having been diagnosed recently as having cancer.
Family Labeled as Quiet
Joe Bessler, a computer consultant who lives next door to the Smiths, said the entire family was very quiet.
"This was an utter surprise," said Bessler, adding that he has known the family for eight years. "We don't know the boy very well because our kids are of a different generation." (Bessler's children are 8 and 11.)
"The Smith kid just didn't stand out. He never made much of an impression. If anything weird had been going on, we would have heard about it. Anything that happens in this neighborhood--such as a cat going up a wrong tree--gets reported. It's reported by the under-5-foot intelligence network, which is all these kids that live around here. Believe me, anything having to do with weapons would have been reported right away.
"I would say, in a nutshell, that Daniel Smith was, is, just a very nice, very quiet kid, as is his whole family."