Federal and local police are trying to determine whether a 28-year-old man may have accidentally detonated an explosive device that killed him in his car.
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokesman James L. Provencher refused to discuss the blast that killed Oleg A. Babichenko of Vancouver.
But Vancouver police Lt. Rex Woodward said ATF agents told him they found an ignition key to a Toyota in Babichenko’s pants pocket, the Oregonian newspaper in Portland reported in Saturday’s editions.
Babichenko was killed about 7:45 a.m. Friday. Authorities found him lying in the street near his Toyota Corolla station wagon after onlookers pulled him from the car.
Washington business license records show that Babichenko, a native of the Republic of Georgia, operated Universal Auto Wrecking in Washougal for a few months in 1995.
“I can’t believe somebody would do this to him,” said Vickie Asher, who rented Babichenko auto-repair space.
Asher said Babichenko did all types of body work, but that he and his associates did not accept street traffic. “All the vehicles were brought in from somewhere else, and I don’t know where they came from.”
According to court records, Babichenko had some minor run-ins with the law, mostly for failing to appear in court on traffic violations.
A Vancouver police source told The Oregonian that there was no record of Babichenko in the department’s criminal computer.
Witnesses said Babichenko appeared to be starting the car when the explosion occurred, police said.
ATF agents believed the explosion was caused by an unspecified “device,” a police news release said.
“We’re not ruling anything out,” Woodward said. “We’re at a very preliminary stage of our investigation.”
Brian Bice, 34, who lives a block away from the explosion, said he heard a loud boom while he was talking on the phone.
He ran to the car, saw the driver lying across the passenger seat and realized a fire was starting where the driver’s head was, Bice said.
“When I pulled him up, his head was on fire, and I started beating it out and yelling for people to help me,” he said.
Bice’s hands caught fire as he and others managed to pull Babichenko from the car.