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Man Pleads Innocent in Hawthorne Blast

February 21, 1988|JAMES RAINEY | Times Staff Writer

A Hawthorne man has pleaded not guilty to a charge stemming from his bungled suicide attempt last December which caused an explosion that wrecked two apartment buildings and left 18 families homeless.

Bruce Wiedensohler, 31, entered the plea to one count of arson Friday in Inglewood Municipal Court.

Police reports allege that the explosion was caused by the depressed young man, who nearly died despite having second thoughts about asphyxiating himself with natural gas.

Although he pleaded innocent, arson investigators said Wiedensohler has acknowledged that he caused the explosion. Investigators said Wiedensohler described the incident this way:

The eight-year TRW employee had been distraught about the upcoming winter holidays and problems at work. Just before midnight Nov. 30, he disconnected a gas line to his kitchen stove, intending to commit suicide.

Wiedensohler said he did not want to hurt others, that he just wanted to lie on his couch and die. But when he awoke the next morning, Wiedensohler said he no longer wanted to die.

Forgetting that he had opened the gas line, Wiedensohler went to his bedroom for his usual morning cigarette.

The resulting explosion threw him into a parking lot next door to his eight-unit apartment building at 4386 W. 138th St. Wiedensohler was seriously burned over 40% of his body.

Six other tenants received minor injuries, and fire investigators said it was remarkable that no one was killed. The apartment building was split in two by the explosion, and a neighboring apartment was severely damaged. All 18 units in the two buildings were left uninhabitable, according to city officials.

Volunteers from the American Red Cross, who assisted victims of the explosion, said all the tenants have found new homes, most in the Hawthorne area. The organization gave the displaced renters a total of $16,400 to help pay for food, clothes, rent on new apartments and other expenses.

The two apartment buildings remain uninhabited while the owners attempt to settle insurance claims, according to Hawthorne Planning Director Michael Goodson. No plans have been submitted for rebuilding the apartments.

Wiedensohler is free on his own recognizance and is to return to court March 3 for a preliminary hearing. If convicted, he could serve four years in prison.

Wiedensohler was hospitalized for two months and is now living with his father, according to court records.

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