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Blast blows crater in courthouse wall; fourth incident in a week

January 30, 1997

VALLEJO, Calif. (AP) _ An explosion blew a manhole-sized crater in the wall of the Solano County courthouse Thursday, smashing windows and damaging nearby buildings. It was the region’s fourth bomb-related incident in a week.

``It sounded like a sonic boom, but I knew it was a bomb because of everything that’s been happening,″ said Teena Camarillo, 33, whose home is about 100 yards from the courthouse.

The powerful device, placed behind a wall of hedges near the front of the courthouse, didn’t penetrate the building when it exploded, and no one was injured. Still, it shattered 22 courthouse windows and damaged several adjacent buildings.

Federal agents were looking for connections between the courthouse blast and two earlier bombs, one of which blew up near several bank ATMs, as well as a threat that forced the evacuation of the Vallejo courthouse.

And later Thursday morning, a bomb threat forced officials to evacuate the courthouse and sheriff’s office in nearby Fairfield. No bomb was found after either threat.

Investigators said thick fog and the dense hedge probably shielded whoever planted the device at the Solono courthouse. A wire leading from the site across the lawn and an adjacent street to an alley probably was used to trigger the explosion, according to Charles Barnett, arson and bomb supervisor for Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office in San Francisco.

A car battery was found near the wire, but it wasn’t clear if it had been used to detonate the bomb. Barnett said lab tests would try to tie the explosive to two bombs from the weekend.

He said the three bombs appear to be ``similar in design.″ He also said the simple devices could have been built by anyone with ``common blasting knowledge.″

As the fog burned off, a team of investigators duck-walked slowly across the courthouse lawn searching for pieces of the courthouse bomb. Trees and bushes were being cut down so they could be more closely inspected.

Deputy David Robinson said links to other bombings around the country were being looked at. He provided no other details. He said there was a witness, but declined to elaborate.

A bomb made of 30 sticks of dynamite and blasting caps was found in a rucksack at Vallejo’s John F. Kennedy library on Saturday. It wasn’t armed, but the library, City Hall, post office and a restaurant nearby had to be evacuated while authorities dismantled it.

A second device exploded about 12 hours later, early Sunday, in front of a set of Wells Fargo ATM machines a few miles away. The machines were damaged, windows were shattered and a hole was punched in the bank building. No one was injured and no money was taken.

And on Monday, a bomb threat force the evacuation of the courthouse in Vallejo, a blue-collar town of about 100,000 people 40 miles northeast of San Francisco. The town was home to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for 142 years until it was closed in March.

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