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Truck Rams State Capitol, Explodes

California and the West

Crash: Driver is killed; witness says he was going 70 mph before impact. None of the lawmakers meeting inside are hurt.

January 17, 2001|CARL INGRAM and MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A speeding tractor-trailer with horn blaring rammed into the state Capitol and exploded into flames Tuesday night as lawmakers inside were meeting on the energy crisis, authorities said. The driver was killed.

The building was evacuated and no one inside was injured. The driver apparently died instantly when the 18-wheeler carrying dried milk ignited into flames that spiraled four stories high, authorities and eyewitnesses said.

"He was going 70 miles an hour and honking his horn and accelerating all the way down 11th Street," said Assembly aide Matt Z'berg. "It seemed like some sort of suicide bombing."

Z'berg said the truck crossed a main highway on the south side of the Capitol against a red light, jumped a curb, crossed the Capitol lawn and climbed the granite steps, smashing into the portico and doorway of the Capitol about 30 yards from the governor's office.

The California Highway Patrol ordered the Capitol evacuated shortly before 9:30 p.m., just as the Assembly was adjourning for the night. A siren blared in the Assembly chambers.

A state trooper moved through the Assembly telling lawmakers to get out because a big rig had crashed into the building.

"We are investigating it as an intentional criminal act and treating the entire area as a crime scene," said David Brunnelle, a spokesman for Capitol police.

Motorist Michael Fahn of Sacramento did not see the truck ram into the building but heard several explosions.

"I thought, 'My God, they are bombing the Capitol,' " Fahn said.

The sound of the crash was followed by smaller booms that continued for several minutes, witnesses said.

Lawmakers rushed from the building and watched stunned as firefighters fought the blaze.

"It's almost unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable," said Assemblyman Carl Washington (D-Los Angeles).

"As we walked out, we could see the flames 30 feet high against the steps," said Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar). "I saw shock and disbelief on my colleagues' faces. That was also how I felt."

The truck apparently was owned by Simon Transportation Service, the Salt Lake City-based parent company of Dick Simon Trucking Inc.

Roy King, a maintenance worker with the firm, said he was waiting for authorities to provide him with the equipment number of the truck and trailer, which would allow him to determine the vehicle's status and whether it had been stolen.

In 1998, then-Gov. Pete Wilson pushed to have a barrier fence installed around the Capitol after a series of terrorist bombings and a gunman's fatal attack on the U.S. Capitol. But lawmakers led by state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) fought it, saying it was unnecessary.

Ultimately, the Legislature, which had budgeted $2 million for a fence, decided against it.

"I thought we had seen it all," said Assemblyman Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria). "It must have been deliberate. I mean, how does a semi happen to end up next to the Capitol?"

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