Chemistry Graduate in Court on Federal Gun Charges
PHOENIX (AP) _ A fugitive gun enthusiast who was run to ground in the Arizona outback was held on an old firearms charge Saturday while investigators probed a possible link to the prime suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Steven Garrett Colbern, 35, was scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate on a charges of possessing an unregistered weapon and fleeing prosecution for that offense. The 1994 case is unrelated to the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Colbern, held in a federal prison north of Phoenix, was to make his initial appearance at the downtown courthouse.
Janet Napolitano, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, refused to comment on any possible connection to the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people in the nation’s worst domestic terrorist attack.
However, a senior federal official in Washington, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said Friday that investigators are looking into a possible link between Colbern and Timothy McVeigh, one of two men charged with the bombing.
Colbern, described by U.S. marshals as armed, dangerous and trained in survival skills, was tracked Friday to Oatman, a former gold-mining town, population 140, in northwest Arizona’s dry hills.
A hotel owner who had just finished identifying a photo of the wanted man pointed him out to federal agents as a man who’d come to town four months ago and worked as a prep cook and dishwasher in a local restaurant.
U.S. marshals accosted Colbern as he bought a newspaper, then threw him to the ground as he allegedly tried to pull a .38-caliber revolver from his black jeans.
Colbern was arrested in Upland, Calif., in July 1994 on a traffic stop. Officers seized a knife, an SKS assault rifle, a silencer and two loaded handguns, said Richard Maxwell, chief deputy district attorney for San Bernardino County.
He was freed on bail but failed to show up for a court appearance Oct. 21 and has been sought since then on a warrant for possessing an unregistered weapon and for fleeing prosecution.
He has listed various addresses in recent years, including his father’s home in Oxnard, Calif., and neighbors say he frequented a trailer owned by his father in the Colorado River town of Bullhead City, Ariz.
He holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles and worked as a research associate from June 1993 to November 1994 at the Cedars-Sinai Research Institute in Los Angeles.
As word of the manhunt burst into the news in California and Arizona on Friday, speculation soared that Colbern might be the elusive John Doe 2 sought as a possible accomplice in the bombing.
The senior official told AP that was not necessarily the case, but said the arrest is part of a search for an associate of McVeigh’s who might shed light on the mysterious figure pictured in three FBI wanted sketches.
Investigators have a letter from McVeigh addressed to ``S.C.″ and Colbern is thought to have used McVeigh’s mailbox address in Kingman, Ariz., the official said Friday night.
The operator of the private mail drop has said she was questioned about Colbern and shown photos, but doesn’t remember him.
Washington sources have told the AP that a witness spotted a brown truck possibly traveling in tandem with McVeigh when he was arrested north of Oklahoma City 75 minutes after the bombing.
FBI agents have examined a brown Chevy pickup sitting outside the trailer in Bullhead City. But neighbors say the truck, which bears an expired Arizona license plate registered to Colbern, hasn’t been moved in six years.
The Dallas Morning News reported Saturday that a bag of ammonium nitrate _ a common fertilizer used to make the Oklahoma City bomb _ was found in the bed of the truck in Bullhead City.
The Los Angeles Times quoted James Strickland, 32, of Camarillo, Calif., as saying he, his brother and Colbern exploded small bombs Colbern had made during an Arizona trip in the mid-1980s. Colbern also had brought a 100-pound bomb made of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel but was talked out of exploding it, the Times said.