Oregon bomb expert's death leaves many questions

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- By all accounts, Bill Hakim was one of those solid cops with plenty of experience and sound judgment who other police officers depend on to make a tough decision, especially on the bomb squad.

It makes his death in a bomb explosion at a small town bank all the more shocking and puzzling to the law enforcement community he served as a senior trooper for the Oregon State Police.

Hakim, 51, was killed Friday while he was handling what he believed to be a hoax bomb at the West Coast Bank branch in Woodburn, a farming town of about 23,000 just south of Portland.

Also killed was Woodburn police Capt. Tom Tennant, who was apparently holding the green metal box that contained the bomb. The city's police chief, Scott Russell, lost a leg and was critically injured, while a bank employee was hit by shrapnel that imbedded in the bone of her leg.

Police made quick arrests, charging 32-year-old Joshua Turnidge and his 57-year-old father, Bruce Turnidge, with aggravated murder. No motive has been revealed so far.

State police officials have deferred any comment on the case until after a multiagency investigation is completed, followed by an independent review assisted by federal agencies.

"That will tell us what happened and why, and whether there are any lessons learned that could be helpful to all bomb technicians nationwide and not just our department," said Lt. Gregg Hastings, state police spokesman.

Several bomb experts said they did not want to second-guess decisions by Hakim, but they agreed it was unusual to conclude a potential bomb was harmless following the visual and X-ray inspection the trooper made.

"It's definitely a hands-off approach, and send in the robot nowadays," said Hal Lowder, who retired as a fire and explosion investigator with the Metro Atlanta Fire Department.

He noted that X-ray inspection is not always conclusive, and it is difficult to visually detect many explosive materials. "You really can't tell," Lowder said. "That thing could be full of sand, Play-Doh or TNT."

The Oregon State Police have declined to say why their Explosive Ordnance Disposal truck, relatively new equipment acquired in 2006, was not at the scene with its bomb-detection tools, robots, protective suits and a containment vessel.

Lowder said bomb disposal robots typically have water cannons, shotgun shells to act as detonators, and clawed arms to manipulate a suspected bomb.

The only reason to handle a potential bomb is immediate danger to people nearby, such as a large crowd, he said.

"The days of movie heroes like Bruce Willis sweating it out and trying to decide which wire to cut are gone and never really happened anyway," Lowder said.

It now appears Hakim was planning to dismantle what he thought was a fake in order to gather evidence.

A hoax device had been planted at a nearby Wells Fargo bank, which was inspected by Hakim and an FBI bomb expert before they found the other device.

Jimmie Oxley, a University of Rhode Island chemistry professor and explosives expert, said it is common for a bomber to plant a phony device to test police reaction.

"There are no absolutes in this," she said. "You can understand why they might have thought the second was a fake if it was similar to the first."

There have been no details about the Woodburn bomb or the materials it may have contained, only the indication it was extremely powerful.

LeRon Howland, former Oregon State Police superintendent, said he was the one who presented Hakim his certificate when he graduated from its training division to start his career in 1997.

"I remember the smile on his face and how proud he was to become part of the state police family," Howland said.

Like other law enforcement veterans, Howland said he was surprised by the bombing deaths, especially because Hakim was regarded as "one of the best in the business" who was trained in explosives in the Navy.

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