Bomb explodes under car in city

Blast sends shrapnel into rowhouses in Patterson Park

Vehicle's owner injured

Man was boyfriend of woman shot in July outside church

May 20, 1999|By Peter Hermann and Jennifer Sullivan | Peter Hermann and Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

A bomb exploded under a car on a Baltimore street yesterday, sending shrapnel into the sides of rowhouses, setting the vehicle ablaze and injuring the owner as he tried to jump from the auto.

Police initially thought they had found four other homemade bombs scattered nearby, and evacuated homes in the Patterson Park neighborhood starting about 7: 30 a.m. Investigators later said they had found parts of the original device.

Emergency workers spent five hours retrieving pieces of the car and bomb from area streets. FBI agents climbed firetruck ladders to scour rooftops. Some families were kept out of the homes until early afternoon.

"I heard the noise and went outside, but when I came back they had blocked off the street and said I couldn't get back in," said Mary Siakiarski, 75, who lives in an apartment building near the blast, which occurred in the 2600 block of Fairmount Ave.

City police detectives and federal law enforcement agents were tight-lipped about their investigation yesterday. They refused to describe the explosive device, but said it might have been triggered by remote-control.

The man in the bombed-out gold Lexus was identified as James Matthew Washington, 34, who lives around the corner from where the blast occurred. He was the boyfriend of Shara Gaylord, who was shot and killed in July outside a Roman Catholic church in East Baltimore.

At the time of the killing -- in which the 30-year-old woman was shot in the head in front of five children she was dropping off for day care -- Washington was questioned by police who believed the motive was related to a domestic dispute, his aunt had said.

The couple was involved in a heated custody battle involving a daughter and had filed criminal assault charges against each other. Police, who have not made an arrest in Gaylord's killing, would not comment on whether the shooting and bombing might be related.

Washington, who suffered minor injuries to his hands, legs and arms and was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, was questioned by homicide detectives yesterday.

He could not be reached for comment; his neighbors in the first block of N. Glover St. said they had not seen Washington all day, but reported that police towed another of his vehicles, a Land Rover.

Pat Brandt, who lives two doors from Washington, said she heard the blast and saw the man run back into his rowhouse.

"I was trying to sweep up the street and after the boom I asked him what happened," she said. "He said he thought his car battery blew up."

Sounded like a truck crash

The explosion rocked a neighborhood north of Patterson Park. "It sounded like a truck crashing," said Ervin Turner, who lives on nearby North Rose Street.

Rita Johnson, who lives on Fairmount Avenue, said the explosion caused two front windows to break.

"I've been here four years in June and I've never heard of anything like it," she said.

Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a city police spokeswoman, said Washington told detectives that he noticed a suspicious package beneath his Lexus as he climbed into the driver's seat.

He tried to jump out, she said, but "before he could get out of the way, the car exploded."

Police said the blast blew open the trunk and hood, cracked the windshield and set the car on fire, starting with the right front tire. Pieces of the car and the device flew out and hit homes and were found scattered on the street up to a block away.

"Debris was everywhere," said Special Agent Michael Campbell, an ATF spokesman. "Parts of the car were everywhere."

Investigators would only describe the device as a pipe bomb wrapped in a package.

Police said the pieces were collected and are being analyzed by crime lab technicians.

Third in five years

Yesterday was the third time in five years that bombs have exploded in Southeast Baltimore.

In 1994, the 73-year-old father of a Baltimore police captain was critically injured when a bomb left on top of his car went off in his hand. Two men were convicted of trying to kill him because he complained about a loud party.

Last year, a man was injured when he picked up a pipe bomb hidden in a stereo, which had been placed on top of a car parked on East Lombard Street. That case is still being investigated.

Police said they believe yesterday's bombing was an isolated incident.

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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