A busy summer day along the Russian River was disrupted by a loud explosion outside the Guerneville Safeway on Friday, when someone threw a firecracker or similar device under a parked Sonoma County sheriff’s patrol vehicle, authorities said.
No one was seriously hurt in the incident, though a Safeway employee reportedly was knocked over by the blast shortly before noon in the store parking lot, emergency personnel said.
A suspect tackled by an off-duty Napa County law enforcement officer in the aftermath of the explosion was detained and held for questioning Friday afternoon but had not been arrested so far, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said.
Crum said detectives would be investigating whether Friday’s incident bore any connection to a pipe bomb discovered July 7 in the parking area off Monte Rio Beach. No arrest was made in that case, though the 5-inch device found that day appeared to be quite different from the M-80-type device that exploded Friday, Crum said.
“This one doesn’t seem as sophisticated as the Monte Rio Beach one, but detectives are looking into it,” he said.
Friday’s incident unfolded in the midst of high season on the river and during Lazy Bear Weekend, one of Guerneville’s biggest draws. A sheriff’s deputy had parked his patrol car outside Safeway and ran inside to grab lunch.
The deputy, whose name was not released, was in the store when he heard a loud explosion strong enough to rattle the store windows, authorities said.
“Everybody in town heard the explosion,” Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said.
When the deputy came outside, several bystanders pointed out a man running northbound through the parking lot, authorities said.
The witnesses included Brandon Cobb, 18, of Santa Rosa, who was walking into the store with some friends when he “heard a loud bang” and, in his peripheral vision, observed a patrol car and “a huge plume of smoke coming out from under it.”
He also saw the off-duty officer tackle the suspect and heard the suspect yell repeatedly, and inexplicably, “Where’s Alec? Can I talk to Alec?”
But Cobb said he and his friends didn’t stick around to see any more and instead made a beeline back toward Santa Rosa as multiple law enforcement officers converged on the area.
The Sheriff’s Office said the suspect was holding a backpack believed to contain additional explosives. While he was being taken to the nearby sheriff’s substation for questioning, emergency personnel evacuated the grocery store and cordoned off the parking lot, isolating the backpack.
The sheriff’s bomb squad arrived and used a small water cannon to neutralize whatever might be inside the backpack. Authorities closed a block of Main Street in front of the store while the bomb squad took action, Baxman said.
They later kept the parking lot cordoned off because of concerns about a vehicle believed to belong to the suspect, possibly containing additional explosives, Baxman said.
A bomb-sniffing dog also was used to sweep the area to ensure there were no additional devices, authorities said.
Officials said a Safeway employee who was knocked over by the explosion suffered minor injuries but was OK to return to work.