Explosion damages federal courthouse

By Angelica Martinez
UNION-TRIBUNE BREAKING NEWS TEAM
May 5, 2008

7:40 a.m., May 5, 2008
There will be no court proceedings at the federal courthouse on Monday because of damage caused by a pipe bomb explosion at the building early Sunday. However, the FBI said the clerk's office will be open for business.

Two guards with the Federal Protective Service who were inside the building called authorities when they heard the explosion at 1:40 a.m. The guards, who work for an agency that is part of the U.S. Department Homeland Security, were not injured.

Firefighters, police, FBI and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived minutes later to find a front window shattered and the building damaged.

The FBI said the courthouse on Front Street at Broadway would be closed today.

The cause of the blast is believed to have been a pipe bomb or bombs that detonated at once, said Keith Slotter, FBI special agent in charge of the bureau's San Diego office. No threats were made and no one has claimed responsibility, an FBI spokeswoman said.

Before the investigation began, San Diego's Metro Arson Strike Team and ATF bomb investigators searched the area to make sure there were no other explosives.

About 40 agents combed the courtyard in front of the courthouse, Front Street and a courtyard across the street, using evidence markers and spray paint to locate debris.

“The damage from the shrapnel didn't stay concentrated just in front of the door,” Slotter said.

One piece of shrapnel lodged in a window on the eighth floor of the AT&T building that faces the courthouse. A damage estimate was not immediately available.

Authorities believe the device or devices were left outside the courthouse's front door shortly before being detonated.

Darrell Foxworth, an FBI spokesman, said surveillance tapes will be examined.

Front Street was closed between Broadway and F Street until just after noon while investigators collected evidence. That evidence will be sent to an FBI laboratory in Virginia, where bomb experts will analyze it, Slotter said.

At the time of the explosion, not many people were near the building, which is at least a block from the nearest nightclubs in the Gaslamp Quarter. Slotter said vehicles were passing by when the explosion occurred, but there were no reports of injuries.

Officials said they don't know if the bombing is connected to a pipe bomb that exploded at a Federal Express building last month.
“We're aware of that incident, and of course, that's something that will be considered in the investigation,” Foxworth said.

That bomb shattered the glass door of the FedEx building, on 47th Avenue near Federal Boulevard, about 2 a.m. April 25. The Fire-Rescue Department found a second bomb in the parking lot and detonated it.

Anyone who saw any activity near the courthouse early yesterday is asked to call the FBI at (858) 565-1255.

The bombing is not the first at San Diego's federal courthouse.

A homemade bomb sheared off two glass doors in September 1990. The bomb was contained in a 30-pound propane tank and ignited a small fire. No one was hurt.

In August 1991, 36-year-old David Kevin Cox of Escondido was charged with five counts connected to the bombing. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years and one month in federal prison for making the bomb; he was acquited of setting it off.

The courthouse entrance also has been damaged before. Dorna Lee Lovelace was convicted in U.S. District Court of destroying government property after driving a pickup into the doors in October 1985. She was sentenced to two years in a federal medical facility.