Davis apt. explosion now criminal investigation

9:46 PM, Jan 18, 2013   |    comments
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DAVIS, Calif. - Police at the University of California, Davis, have launched a criminal investigation into an explosion at a campus apartment in which a junior researcher injured his hand. 

UC Davis Police Chief Matt Carmichael disclosed the criminal probe on Friday although he did not say exactly what investigators were looking into. 

Carmichael said officers from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and several bomb squads spent 20 hours removing potentially hazardous chemicals from the apartment following Thursday's blast. 

He said some were too dangerous to transport and were exploded in an open area on campus. 

Carmichael would not describe the chemicals or say what the researcher was doing when the explosion occurred. He said no one is in custody. 

Dozens of residents who were evacuated from neighboring apartments were allowed to return home on Friday.

Late Friday, boards covered a window to the researcher's apartment where the first explosion happened early Thursday morning. Earlier in the day one could still see what looked like a homemade vent built into the window.

"I thought it was one of the portable air conditioners that have an exit vent," law student Alex Monterrubio said.

Many who knew the researcher believed to be responsible for the explosion said they never noticed anything suspicious. In fact, even the explosion itself failed to raise many eyebrows initially.

"Clearly, there was a loud noise outside; wouldn't be something you would associate with an explosion. I thought maybe somebody hit one of the speed bumps or something like that," Monterrubio said.

But soon police began evacuating the apartment complex leaving neighbors in a state of confusion.

"They just told us, 'you got five minutes to gather your things for the night, and you're being evacuated;' and we even asked them, 'what are we being evacuated for,' and they couldn't tell us," said Patrick Wilson, who lives on the floor above the researcher.

When Carmichael explained that the apartment was now the center of a criminal investigation, he couldn't provide many details.

"The community is safe, is safe in that area, and that is the extent of the update today," Carmichael said.

The university only said that the researcher was not a student, but a non-faculty university employee working as a junior specialist in a professor's lab under the guidance of senior scientists. One thing that remains unclear is the purpose of the vent coming out of his window.

"If he was venting some sort of chemical byproducts of whatever he was doing into the ambient air, it could be a potential risk for the families around here," said physics student Sean Barberie, who lives in a neighboring building.

What looked like fertilizer and paper targets outside the apartment left those nearby with more questions than answers. A sign shows the researcher's apartment remains uninhabitable, but university officials insist the rest of the complex is safe.

At a news conference Friday, police had no comment when asked who or where the researcher was, what investigators found, whether or not it was illegal, whether the suspect has cooperated with the investigation, or whether or not he is the only suspect targeted by the investigation.

With so much left unknown, neighbors who live in the complex have struggled to get answers.

Justin Aflatooni, who lives on the floor above the apartment unit where the blast occurred, said, "The officer, when I asked him one more time what he thought was going on, he said 'it looks like the guy had been manufacturing dope,' was what he said and maybe also making explosives."

Asked specifically about neighbors' concerns, university officials wouldn't comment on the investigation, only confirming that as of Friday evening no one had been arrested and no one was in custody.

The Associated Press

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