Police officer breaks down describing mayhem inside Oregon bank after bomb blast

By Jeff Barnard, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Policeman tearfully describes carnage of blast

SALEM, Ore. — A police detective broke down in tears Thursday as he told jurors in a murder trial about finding the bodies of two officers after a bomb went off in a bank.

“I knew he was dead,” Detective Nick Wilson testified, referring to his police captain, who had been in the bank lobby trying to dismantle the bomb. “I didn’t see any form to the life. It was just skin.”

Wilson said that just minutes before the blast, police Chief Scott Russell told him to go outside and look for any other suspicious objects that might still be around. Wilson said he was at a nearby bank with another officer when they heard the blast, saw a flash of light, and saw smoke pouring from the windows of the West Coast Bank branch.

State police bomb technician Senior Trooper William Hakim and Woodburn Police Capt. Thomas Tennant were killed in the blast on Dec. 12, 2008, and Russell lost a leg.

Wilson took the stand on the first day of testimony in the trial of Bruce Turnidge, 58, and his son, Joshua Turnidge, who are accused of building and planting a remote-controlled bomb at the West Coast bank. They face a potential death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder charges.

Authorities believe the bomb was inadvertently triggered by a nearby trucker talking on his CB radio.

Prosecutors have described the bomb plot as an extortion attempt gone wrong. The two defendants blame each other for the blast, with the father implicating his son and the son saying his father had a history of thinking up money-making schemes.

Among those who testified Thursday was a Wells Fargo Bank employee who answered a telephoned bomb threat detailing the whereabouts of a cell phone that would be used in the extortion plot. Karen Valadez told jurors that the caller sounded like a calm, educated, white man who was in his mid-30s to mid-40s.

Defense lawyers tried to throw doubt on Valadez’ impression of the caller’s age, noting police interviews where she said he could have been in his late 40s. She claimed to have the call “etched in her memory,” but they pointed out her inability to recall whether they were given 60 minutes or 60 seconds to leave the building.

Prosecutors say Joshua Turnidge, who is 34, made the call in an attempt to extort money from the West Coast and Wells Fargo banks. Valadez was not asked to try to identify Joshua Turnidge’s voice as the caller, but she is expected to be called back to testify further.

The defense also tried to blame some of the tragedy on the bomb technician, Hakim, calling him a “flawed man.” The team had claimed during opening statements that Hakim mistakenly decided the bomb was a hoax and took it inside, out of the rain. The bomb exploded while he and Tennant were dismantling it.

Defense lawyers took great pains to get FBI bomb technician Special Agent John Hallock to testify about how careful bomb technicians have to be, despite the fact most threats turn out to be hoaxes.

Two witnesses, bank assistant manager Laurie Ann Perkett and police Capt. Jason Alexander, told jurors about the process of finding the green box and the motions authorities and bank officials went through to determine it had not been equipment left by a landscaper.

Wilson testified that Hakim tried to X-ray the box in an alcove out of the rain, but the X-ray was poor quality. After looking it over, he concluded the box was a hoax bomb, and took it inside to dismantle it, Wilson said.

Prosecutors played a series of videos from bank security cameras that showed a crowd of police and bank employees around Hakim and Tennant as they kneeled on the floor in front of the lobby fireplace. The video eventually shows only Russell left, who was watching Hakim and Tennant, and then gray smoke and darkness.

Wilson testified that after the bomb went off, he and officer John Mikkola found Russell with one leg nearly blown off and the other spurting blood from an artery in his thigh. Wilson said he pulled off his belt and used it as a tourniquet to control the bleeding.

“It seemed like forever,” he said of the few minutes it took for paramedics to arrive.

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