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Arrests Expected Soon in Mailbox Pipe-Bomb Blasts

Five of the devices have detonated in Solano County, and three others were found before they had caused damage. No one has been injured.

November 11, 2003|Eric Malnic and Lee Romney | Times Staff Writers

At least two suspects have been identified and arrests are expected soon in five Solano County mailbox pipe-bomb explosions this month, the Solano County Sheriff's Department said Monday.

Three unexploded pipe bombs have been found since Nov. 1 on rural roads near homes, said Keith Bloomfield, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. He said no one was injured by any of the bombs.

Bloomfield declined to provide any information about the suspects or speculate about motives for placing the bombs, which apparently were not intended to hurt anyone.

Each of the devices was a length of galvanized pipe, capped on each end and filled with gunpowder, officials said. They said each of the five that detonated had been set off by lighting a fuse inserted through a hole in the side of the pipe.

None of the bombs was rigged to go off when a mailbox was opened, but Bloomfield stressed that the devices could have hurt a passerby.

"This has gone far beyond a simple prank," Bloomfield said Monday. He said that, in the words of Solano County Sheriff Gary Stanton, "these incidents constitute a case of domestic terrorism." The bombs that exploded were detonated over the first weekend in November.

The first two went off before dawn, destroying the mailboxes of a retired California Highway Patrol assistant chief, Michael Garver, and his next-door neighbor, Gary Ames, according to published reports. Three other bombs destroyed nearby mailboxes over the next 48 hours in the largely agricultural county 50 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Last Tuesday, two live but unexploded bombs were found on a road near several homes. Officials said one of the bombs had been lighted but failed to detonate. On Friday afternoon, a third unexploded bomb was found near a home and across the street from a market.

The bombs have left nerves on edge in Solano County.

"I wouldn't even go to the mailbox this morning. I made my boss do it," said Dollie Wilson, office manager of Newell's Property Management in Suisun City.

"Thank God nobody's been injured," Wilson said. "But it's only a matter of time if they don't get it under control."

The Sheriff's Department wouldn't speculate on any connection between the Solano County bombs and the bombs planted in 18 mailboxes last year that left six people injured in Illinois and Iowa. Those bombs were rigged to explode when the mailboxes were opened.

Luke Helder, now 22, of Pine Island, Minn., was arrested near Reno in May 2002 and accused of putting the bombs in mailboxes in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas. He allegedly told law-enforcement officers that he had placed the bombs in a pattern to create a giant, connect-the-dots "smiley face."

Helder is undergoing psychiatric treatment at a federal prison hospital in Rochester, Minn., and has yet to stand trial. Legal experts say that if Helder doesn't respond to treatment, he might never be tried.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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