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Misadventures in Journalism - The Car Bomb Mystery

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A few weeks ago, a YouTube video popped up called "Car Bomb In West Los Angeles" in which it appears that some sort of crane-like robot (an extra Transformer that didn't quite make Michael Bay's cut?) pulls an unidentified object out of the trunk of a car. At about the four minute mark in the video, the robot sets the thing off to the side of a building, and a loud noise is heard, as if something was detonated.

Now the person who shot the footage from a roof (a guy who works at a small film company near the site of the incident) noted that several blocks of Pico (from Sepulveda to Overland in West LA) had also been shutdown during this. How, he editorializes in the video, can a robot detonate a bomb and the police shut down four blocks of traffic and no media outlet report on it? My guess was because the robot didn't pull Lindsay Lohan or Mirthala Salinas out of the trunk. (Hey, not together! Get your mind out of the gutter, people!)

At any rate, the entrepreneuring reporter that I am, I decided to contact the LAPD to get the real scoop. That scoop turned out to be more elusive than a heaping scoop of Pinkberry. Please forgive the awful analogy.

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This "bomb sniffing robot" incidentally is being played by Arnold Schwarznegger in next year's Terminator 4.

I first called the LAPD Media Relations line the Monday after the video was shot (August 1) and a woman told me that I needed to request the information in email form. I didn't hear back until the day after sending the email, in which a PIO told me that a Watch Commander from West LA would "hopefully" be contacting me that afternoon.

But I never heard anything back. Finally, I got an email five days later (August 7) and the PIO wondered if I had heard from an officer about the "car bomb." Nope, I told her. She said she'd try again. Two days later (August 9) she sent me an email she had forwarded to an officer and a sergeant asking for someone to help me. "I'm sorry, I don't know what to say," the PIO tells me in her email. At this point, I'm wondering if there was some earth shattering conspiracy involved here. Who was targeted in this car bomb? A famous actor? A head of state? Ryan Seacrest?

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One of the most famous car bombings, the Lego Car Bomb of 2004.

Finally that afternoon, a Detective of the Major Crimes Division, Criminal Conspiracy Section calls me with the information.

He disappointed by telling me that the suspicious device found in the car was a “facimile device.”
“Our uniformed officers saw a device that appeared to be have some plastic piping and wiring so they called in the bomb squad to respond,” he said. The loud noise heard during the video also wasn’t the item detonating but part of a “customary” way the bomb squad handles such items.

The story he told me goes like this: The LAPD initially pulled over a car on Pico at Greenfield after checking the plates and discovering that the car had been stolen from Arizona. They searched the car and found a suspicious package and called the bomb squad in, closing a couple streets for "precautionary measures" in the meantime.

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No, not THAT kind of car bomb.

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After finding the bomb to be fake, police arrested 38-year old Shane Bennett for possessing a facsimile bomb. But prosecutors dropped the charges because they said there was not enough evidence.

For a journalist, this is the equivalent of the Scooby-Doo crew finding out that the ghost haunting the mansion wasn't really a ghost, but Old Man Smithers dressing up in an old white sheet. On the other hand, it's comforting to know that the LAPD is so forthcoming...after merely two weeks of waiting. C'mon fellas, you know the media loves you! Let's hug it out.