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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Man Held in Bomb Threats That Snarled Freeways

November 04, 2000

LOS ANGELES — Sheriff's detectives arrested a man early Friday who was suspected of making bomb threats that shut down freeway traffic for miles, forced hundreds of people from their homes and interrupted Metro Green Line service for about six hours.

Police began receiving calls about 6:45 p.m. Thursday from a man who was threatening to blow up a car parked at the Willowbrook park-and-ride lot if anyone approached it. Jesse Vargas, 37, was subsequently detained by sheriff's deputies at a nearby phone booth from which he is alleged to have made the threats.

The caller told police that a gray four-door Cadillac parked under the freeway at Wilmington Avenue contained explosives. The car was backed up to one of the support columns of the freeway, said Sgt. Brenda Cambra of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The California Highway Patrol shut down the Century Freeway in both directions from 7:20 p.m. until 1:25 a.m., said Officer Rosa Ray. At one point, traffic was backed up for nearly three miles, dispatchers said.

Los Angeles police officers evacuated about 300 residents from the Imperial Courts housing project, said Sgt. Maurice Landrum. They were taken by bus to Markum Middle School on Compton Avenue.

A robot operated by deputies from the sheriff's arson and explosives detail was used to open the trunk shortly before midnight on Thursday but no explosives were found inside the car, Cambra said.

Vargas was booked into the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood on suspicion of making terrorist threats and held in lieu of $50,000 bail.

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