Bomb Scares Shake Carmel
Fifth incident in two years a false alarm, say cops.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
A series of bomb scares and arson attempts, going back almost two years, have police and other officials practicing extreme vigilance.
Last month, an unattended briefcase at a Carmel Charles Schwab brokerage prompted Monterey County Bomb Squad officers to shut down Carmel Rancho Boulevard. The briefcase, which did not contain any explosives, was the latest in a series of suspicious packages left in the vicinity of the brokerage firm in Carmel’s Clock Tower Plaza.
The May 16 false alarm is the fifth incident in the area in two years.
Monterey County Sheriff Cmdr. Fred Garcia says the most recent briefcase found at Charles Schwab had been left accidentally.
“While everyone was at the scene the owner showed up and said he’d left it there,” Garcia says.
Accident or no, however, sheriff’s deputies aren’t taking any chances. Local law enforcement has been on high alert since Aug. 18, 2003, when two briefcases containing bomb components were discovered and detonated—one outside the brokerage office, and the other at the gate to company founder Charles Schwab’s weekend home in Pebble Beach.
That was before the sheriff’s department had its own bomb squad, so Monterey County officers had to wait while the Santa Cruz County Bomb Squad was called in to investigate. After determining that the briefcase appeared to contain explosives, authorities evacuated the area, blocked off traffic and used a blast from a water cannon to break the case open.
Both briefcases did, in fact, hold wires, two small propane canisters and other materials.
The Aug. 18 case remains unsolved despite assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sheriff’s Sgt. John DiCarlo says the department exhausted all workable leads and suspended the case.
“We researched everything,” DiCarlo says. “We examined all the parts of these briefcases. We couldn’t find where they came from. The case maker was contacted. There was no info there. We interviewed current employees, past employees, anyone who might be holding a grudge against Schwab. There were no leads. We even investigated a large rock found in the suitcase at the business to see if they could find where it came from.”
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In a separate incident, an arsonist set fire to My Om Place, a nearby yoga studio, twice last year—first in June and then in September. The second fire caused extensive smoke damage, and ultimately forced the studio’s closure. Local and federal authorities say a flammable accelerant was used to start the blaze. They have yet to charge anyone in the fire attacks.
“They are arson,” says Battalion Chief Curt Itson of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “At this point they’re still under investigation, although there is nothing to indicate that they’re related to the bomb scares at all. Arson is very difficult to solve. Cause of origin is the easy part. It’s the who.”
Then on Oct. 1, 2004, a suspected pipe bomb shut down Carmel Rancho Shopping Center. Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies found a length of galvanized pipe standing on end beneath a black plastic covering in the parking lot between Washington Mutual Bank and Charles Schwab.
Law enforcement officials blocked off the parking lot and evacuated surrounding buildings and the Santa Cruz County bomb squad was brought in. A bomb robot helped officers unwrap and identify the object: a patio table.
Local business owners say they’re not worried about their safety. But they are worried about their bottom line.
“When they have to close down the parking lot, obviously if people can’t get in that directly affects my business,” says John Wise of Carmel Tile & Marble Co., whose business is located right across the parking lot from the Charles Schwab brokerage.