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News Rack Destroyed in `Bomb' Scare

April 29, 2006|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

A newspaper promotion for the upcoming movie "Mission: Impossible III" misfired Friday when a Los Angeles County sheriff's arson squad blew up a news rack, thinking it contained a bomb.

Instead, the Los Angeles Times coin machine near the intersection of Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon roads in Santa Clarita held a digital musical device designed to play the "Mission: Impossible" theme song when the rack's door was opened.

The incident came amid several bomb reports made by newspaper buyers startled to see a red plastic box with wires protruding from it attached to the interiors of racks.

In West Los Angeles, federal police at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center called in the sheriff's bomb squad after a newspaper buyer spied the 6-inch-long, 2 1/2 -inch-wide box and its wires.

By then, deputies were aware that the box was a musical, not explosive, device.

Times officials said the devices were placed in 4,500 randomly selected news boxes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in a venture with Paramount Pictures designed to turn the "everyday news rack experience" into an "extraordinary mission."

"In this day and age, anything a little odd-looking arouses suspicion," said Times Publisher Jeff Johnson.

The devices weren't supposed to be seen by the public, said John O'Loughlin, The Times' senior vice president for planning. "This was the least intended outcome. We weren't expecting anything like this."

Newspaper executives said the "singing news racks" were the first of their kind. They are scheduled to be in operation through May 7. The Tom Cruise movie is to open May 5.

The bomb squad excitement was unexpected, said Mark Kurtich, senior vice president of operations for The Times. "I think Paramount is pretty happy about it."

Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike LaPerruque, now security manager for The Times, said law enforcement agencies around Los Angeles were advised Friday afternoon that the devices were a movie promotion and not dangerous.

"I got a call from one agency even as I was on the phone making the notifications," he said.

"With the wires leading to the micro-switch on the news rack doors, I can easily see how someone might have misconstrued it as an improvised explosive device," LaPerruque said.

Times staff writers Hector Becerra and Gregory W. Griggs contributed to this report.

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