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Teacher Hurt When Old Ammo Explodes in Class

April 05, 2006|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A Ventura educator remained hospitalized Tuesday after a decades' old round of military ammunition he used as a paperweight exploded in his classroom, authorities said.

Robert Colla, an instructor at the Ventura Adult Education Center for five years, suffered severe damage to his right hand when the device detonated Monday afternoon. None of the more than 20 students in his computer drawing class was injured, officials said.

Co-workers said Colla found the large piece of ammo -- believed to be a 40-millimeter round -- when he was a child and thought it was harmless. It was a regular fixture in his classroom.

"This is not something he just found last week," said Barry Tronstad, director of the center on Valentine Road. "It's something he played with when he was a little boy."

Tronstad said Colla worked in the mechanical drafting industry before joining the adult center, where he began as an instructional assistant and moved up to instructor. "He's just an excellent teacher," Tronstad said. He said Colla was in his mid-40s and married with school-age children.

Administrators at the center and the Ventura Unified School District are still investigating, but witnesses said Colla was using the paperweight either to bang an object on his desk that was making noise or to get the students' attention.

"We're still collecting the facts on what happened exactly. We're just beginning to ask the questions," said Supt. Trudy T. Arriaga. "He's an outstanding employee in the district and we're hoping for the best with his prognosis and injury.... We're hoping for a full recovery."

Ventura Fire Department Battalion Chief Vern Alstot was among those who responded to Monday's explosion. "This was an absolute accident," he said. "A freak accident where everyone was extremely surprised."

Alstot said Colla was taken to Ventura County Medical Center. The injury was not life-threatening but part of Colla's hand may be amputated, Alstot said.

Hospital officials Tuesday would not discuss Colla's condition.

Alstot said the explosion put a hole about an inch in diameter through the roof of the adult education center. There was no dollar estimate of damages, and classes continued in other rooms.

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, 28 workplace explosions were investigated in 2005, down from 38 in 2003.

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