April 30, 1996 in Nation/World

Another Blast Rattles Spokane Agencies Investigate City Hall Bombing

Adam Lynn S J. Todd Foster, Jim Camde Staff writer
 

The bomb that exploded outside Spokane City Hall early Monday caused no injuries and did little damage, but the pipe packed with nails and screws dealt a major blow to the community’s psyche less than a week before Bloomsday.

The pre-dawn blast blew out a window in one of the doors at the Post Street entrance and sent shrapnel hurtling more than 150 yards into Riverfront Park.

The explosion - the third in the Spokane area this month - and a bomb scare at the Ridpath Hotel later in the day disrupted city government and traffic in the downtown area.

But the most damage may have been to community spirit, as officials and residents were left wondering about their safety.

“Who in the world would do that to City Hall in Spokane, Washington?” asked Irv Reed, the city’s director of planning services.

Leo Simons lives in the Coeur d’Alene Plaza apartment building two blocks from City Hall. He watched with amazement Monday morning as fire crews and police swarmed over the normally quiet lawns of Riverfront Park.

“You don’t know what to do anymore with all the damn nuts running around,” Simons said. “It’s getting so you can’t even walk down the streets anymore.”

Mayor Jack Geraghty was exasperated. “Who knows what’s going on these days?” he said.

The blast raised concerns about the Lilac Bloomsday Run, one of the Inland Northwest’s biggest and most popular community events.

Shrapnel from Monday’s blast tore through an area near the finish line of the race, where about 60,000 runners will pass Sunday morning.

“If this had been a crowded day, if we had had a lot of people out here, we would have had very, very serious injuries and very, very many injuries,” said Police Chief Terry Mangan.

Bloomsday officials are scheduled to meet with police today to make final security plans for the 20th running of the race.

Tom Jones, president of the Lilac Bloomsday Association, said race officials have been told there is no evidence the bombing was related to Bloomsday.

Mangan said the course will be thoroughly inspected before the Sunday morning start.

As of Monday night, authorities had no motive and no suspects in the bombing.

“Right now, we … have zilch to go on, other than one possible lead that juveniles might have been involved,” one investigator said.

The bomb apparently went off just after 3 a.m., but the explosion wasn’t discovered until more than three hours later. There is no alarm system at City Hall that would have been triggered by the blast, city officials said.

Mangan speculated someone may have set off the device as a political statement or may have been experimenting with explosives as a prank.

The bomb exploded six hours before the Police Department began its murder-assault trial against a Hells Angels member, Timothy Myers.”It’s the first thing I thought about when they sent us down here on the bombing,” a federal investigator said.

There was nothing, however, tying the bombing to the outlaw motorcycle gang.

Stunned City Hall employees arriving for work were hustled to the Spokane Arena while bomb experts searched the seven-story building with dogs.

As officials implemented their emergency management plan, searches of other city-owned facilities - libraries, the waste-to-energy plant, bridges and dams - turned up no other bombs.

City Hall reopened about 1:30 p.m.

At the Spokane County Courthouse a mile away, security officers searched visitors more carefully and inspected employee identification badges more closely.

County department heads were asked to talk to their staffs and watch for anything unusual.

Police cordoned off most of the western part of Riverfront Park for several hours to collect evidence. They called in the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as security forces from Fairchild Air Force Base and county deputies.

The perimeter of the cordoned-off area expanded outward several times as investigators found what they thought were pieces of the bomb farther and farther away from the blast site.

Screws and nails were found outside the Carrousel Cafe nearly two blocks away.

More than 40 pieces of pipe, nails, screws and other debris littered Post Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard. Dozens of other pieces were strewn through the park.

The streets between Stevens and Monroe, Main and the Spokane River were closed for several hours as investigators gathered clues.

A worker at Washington Water Power Co.’s Post Street substation heard a loud noise at 3:10 a.m. and made a notation in his log, said Debbie Simock, a WWP spokeswoman.

Some residents of the Coeur d’Alene Plaza at Howard and Spokane Falls reported hearing a boom at about the same time.

“At first I thought it was thunder, but I looked up in the sky and there were no clouds,” said Coeur d’Alene Plaza resident Sheila Burgher.

Burgher said she waited for the sound of police sirens but there was none. She assumed the noise had a simple explanation, like someone slamming the metal lid on a Dumpster in a nearby alley.

Neighbor Marilyn Dye also heard the explosion but thought it was a car backfiring or a gunshot. She didn’t even think to call police.

A City Hall maintenance worker discovered the bombing about 6:30 a.m., police said.

It was the third pipe bomb blast in the Spokane area this month.

On April 1, a group of armed men set off two pipe bombs in the Spokane Valley during a bank heist.

One was detonated outside the Valley office of The Spokesman-Review, the other inside the U.S. Bank branch at Argonne and Sprague.

No one was hurt in either blast. The suspects, thought to have ties to the white supremacy movement, are still at large.

Mangan said authorities don’t know whether the Valley bombings are related to the City Hall blast. However, authorities did say the City Hall bomb had a sophisticated detonation device while the others had simple fuses.

Unlike the Valley explosions, the bomber left no note at City Hall and police said they have no witnesses.

Aside from the disruption at City Hall on Monday, it was pretty much business as usual downtown as officials urged residents to go about their lives.

The Riverfront Park Carrousel was up and running in the afternoon, the downtown library opened on schedule and the staff at the Olive Garden restaurant served lunch at noon.

The City Council met as scheduled Monday night in the council chambers in the basement of City Hall.

Mangan said it was important to show that terrorist tactics won’t cow local government or “spook the community.

“We think this sends a bad message if we let this disrupt the normal functions of government unnecessarily,” the chief said.

Mayor Geraghty agreed. “We’re not going to be intimidated,” he said.

But city employee Cindy Gullett said the bombing further eroded Spokane’s image as a cozy place removed from the ugly problems of the world.

“Spokane has always had this small-town mentality as far as friendliness,” Gullett said. “It’s starting to lose that.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Adam Lynn Staff writer Staff writers J. Todd Foster, Jim Camden, Kristina Johnson, Jim Lynch and Bill Morlin contributed to this report.


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