Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Biochemist Arrested in Blast Probe : Oklahoma City: Steven Colbern, 35, who grew up in Oxnard and attended UCLA, is being held on unrelated weapons charges. Officials say McVeigh tried to contact him last fall.

May 13, 1995|RONALD J. OSTROW and TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — A Southern California biochemist who was sought in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing case was arrested by U.S. marshals Friday afternoon in the heart of Arizona's Black Mountains after he was spotted sitting on a bench in the tiny town of Oatman.

Steven Garrett Colbern, 35, a UCLA-educated chemist who was already wanted on both state and federal weapons charges, was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by the marshals who were in town searching for him.

Federal agents said the search for Colbern began after authorities learned that the chief suspect in the bombing case, Timothy J. McVeigh, tried to contact him last fall. Colbern was being held on the weapons charges.

In some ways, Colbern's photo on a U.S. Marshals wanted poster resembles the sketch of the elusive "John Doe No. 2," who is believed to have accompanied McVeigh when he allegedly rented the Ryder truck used in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. But federal officials, made wary by the ups and downs of the hunt, played down any connection with John Doe No. 2 as they disclosed they have been searching for Colbern for at least a week.

FOR THE RECORD - On the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 14, 1995 Valley Edition Part A Page 3 Zones Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name--A story Saturday incorrectly identified a high school friend of Steven Colbern, the former Oxnard man whom authorities want to question about the Oklahoma City bombing. The friend's name is John Strickland.

As if to underscore that wariness, the marshals on Friday asked the Upland Police Department, which arrested Colbern July 20 on weapons charges, to withdraw a press release stating that Colbern also was known as John Doe No. 2.

However, federal officials--speaking not for attribution--made clear that their interest in Colbern now is based on information that McVeigh tried to contact this latest suspect last fall in Kingman, Ariz., which authorities believe may have been a planning site for the Oklahoma City bombing.

A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals office in Phoenix said Colbern was armed with a .38-caliber revolver when he was wrestled to the ground by three federal marshals in Oatman, an old gold mining town that now caters to the few tourists who pass through that remote region of Arizona. After a brief struggle, Colbern was taken into custody about 3 p.m., said Thomas B. Nixon, chief deputy for the district of Arizona office.

"He got up and attempted to leave and attempted to pull a .38-caliber five-shot revolver, fully loaded," Nixon said. During the struggle, Colbern kicked one of the deputies in the jaw, Nixon said.

Nixon said six federal agents had been in Oatman on Friday as part of a joint effort with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to locate Colbern.

Ted Tonioli, the owner of the Oatman Hotel, said federal marshals stopped by about 2:30 p.m. Friday to inquire about Colbern. A few minutes after the deputies left, Tonioli said he saw Colbern walking down the street.

"He stopped and bought a copy of the Mohave Valley Daily News," Tonioli said. "He then wandered down the street."

Tonioli said he motioned to federal agents, who were standing about 100 feet away.

"I told them, 'Your suspect is walking across the street with a newspaper,' " Tonioli said. Colbern was nabbed a few minutes later when the agents approached the bench where he sat outside the hotel's restaurant.

Nixon said Colbern was transported to nearby Bullhead City, Ariz., where he was being held on failure to appear with an underlying charge of possession of unregistered weapons. He will be transported to Phoenix, where he is scheduled to be arraigned today.

*

Colbern had been working as a janitor and a cook at the Oatman Mining Company, a bar and grill on Route 66.

"He was a super person," said the restaurant's owner, who asked not to be named. "I have nothing bad to say about Steve."

Maybelle Hertig, 70, of Bullhead City, said Friday that Colbern lived off-and-on in a mobile home near her and that he was frequently seen in fatigues.

FBI agents Thursday night showed Hertig a picture of Colbern, and she said she identified him as her occasional neighbor.

The agents then searched a brown pickup truck outside Colbern's trailer--a truck that, Hertig said, had not been moved for years. She described Colbern as aloof, eccentric and unfriendly.

"Have you ever been around someone so smart they don't think they have to talk to you? That's the type of person he is. He was not friendly at all. He didn't talk to anyone--not one person. And he had a walk you couldn't forget, like an old farmer. He walked with a kind of a hop."

Hertig said she was particularly annoyed that Colbern once had a large box of ammunition sent to her by parcel post--and another box was delivered to another neighbor--because he wasn't around to accept delivery of it.

She said Colbern was obsessed with snakes and other reptiles, and that his father once had to remove 30 animal cages from the double-wide trailer during one cleanup session.

"He (the father) told me he couldn't communicate with his son. It was his mother who gave in to him all the time," Hertig said.

In retrospect, Hertig said, Colbern bears a resemblance to John Doe No. 2--but that resemblance didn't occur to her in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, she said.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|