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BOMB CALL CLOGS LAX ARTERIES : THREATS ON RISE SINCE RECENT BLASTS.

Byline: Jaxon Van Derbeken Daily News Staff Writer

A bomb threat closed the entire roadway network within Los Angeles International Airport for 45 minutes Wednesday morning, creating a massive traffic tangle that came on top of delays from heightened security.

The tie-up extended onto Century and Sepulveda boulevards and lasted well after police determined the threat to be false.

Police say the case is the latest in a rash of bomb threats and suspicious package discoveries in Los Angeles borne of heightened concern and publicity surrounding the recent bombing at the Olympics, the mysterious crash of TWA Flight 800 and last year's Oklahoma City bombing.

Each threat is taken seriously by law enforcement officials, who say they are responding to a greater number of calls - and, in Los Angeles County, finding a greater number of explosive devices.

A Sheriff's Department spokesman said 178 potentially explosive devices have been found in the county out of a total of 273 calls answered in the first six months of this year.

By contrast, only 86 such devices were found out of 259 calls in the first half of 1995.

``That's the big increase - that's the one that has us concerned,'' said Lt. Tom Spencer of the county bomb squad. Spencer said that July will mark a record number of calls for his bomb squad.

``We're going to top 70 for the month - that is a record in this unit,'' Spencer said. ``And the actual devices that really cause damage has gone up.''

Among devices found by sheriff's deputies: nine pipe bombs, 53 pieces of military ordnance, 44 Molotov cocktails, 12 fireworks-pyrotechnic devices, two acid bombs and five dry ice bombs.

In the city, the Los Angeles Police Department's bomb squad responded to 972 calls in 1995 - up from 717 in 1994.

Of those calls last year, 181 were for either fireworks, ordnance or other potentially threatening items, police said.

The squad destroyed 73 devices and investigated 41 explosions - many in mailboxes - that occurred over the year. Most calls, however, were for suspicious packages that turned out to be harmless.

``We have had an excessive amount of bomb calls on the heels of the pipe bombing in Atlanta,'' said Lt. Tony Alba, an LAPD spokesman. ``They have been running around like crazy ever since the Atlanta incident, a lot of suspicious package calls.''

At LAX, the LAPD bomb squad was summoned at 8:30 a.m. after a threat was received at 7:53 a.m. that someone had placed a bomb in a cellular phone dispenser at Terminal 5, which is used by Delta Air Lines.

The roads for arrivals and departures were shut from 9:45 to 10:32, when the all-clear was given.

Airport officials said the squad examined an uninstalled cellular phone vending machine whose plastic wrapping appeared to have been tampered with, but found nothing.

``For the 45 minutes, you could not come into the central terminal area,'' said Nancy Castles, a spokeswoman for the airport. ``It was a traffic jam - this is the main roadway through our terminal.''

The scare at LAX came one day after another bomb threat, in which a Southwest Airlines flight was forced to return to LAX minutes after takeoff en route to Salt Lake City.

Also on Wednesday, in Lancaster, the sheriff's bomb squad was summoned to the parking lot at an Elks Lodge at 240 E. Avenue K, where deputies found a homemade device - which included half-sticks of dynamite and BBs.

A day earlier, a bomb threat cleared out the first floor of the LAPD's Parker Center for 20 minutes.

And Monday, an Ensenada-bound Carnival cruise ship, filled with 1,846 passengers, was forced to turn around and head back to port after a bomb threat was made. No bomb was found.

``To some it is a power thing,'' said Sgt. Al Humphries of the Sheriff's Department bomb squad. ``With 20 cents and a mean spirit you can make a cruise ship turn around, or make an airplane turn back.''

Spencer and security experts agree media attention that focused on bombs in the aftermath of the Centennial Park and TWA explosions have factored into the flurry of threats and reported suspicious packages.

William Daly, managing director at Kroll Associates, a New York-based security firm, said the activity will diminish as the spotlight fades.

``If you look after the World Trade Center bombing, there was a dramatic increase the next day, unfortunately tied to the attention on the issue,'' Daly said.

``These people who are on the fringe, they enjoy seeing emergency service, knowing that it is going to disrupt a city,'' he said. ``This is the way they live out their fantasy. The more they see it being received and responded to, the more it will continue.''

Still, Humphries said people should not be deterred from reporting anything that appears suspicious or poses a risk.

``There's concern. I see it as concern rather than blinding fear,'' he said. ``People are still flying in airplanes. There's a bit more concern. I don't see anything wrong with that. It's a sign of the times, we are living in interesting times.''

Humphries said there has been a steady increase in the call load his unit has faced in the 19 years he has worked in the Sheriff's Department's bomb squad.

``When I first came in, there was nine of us, now we have 24 and we run a 24-hour operation - we are very, very busy.''

Spencer said information about bomb-making on the Internet may be the answer to the greater numbers of actual devices being made.

``This information is readily available on the Internet,'' he said. ``What we've noticed is that a lot of juveniles have gotten the information off the Internet - they admit it.''

Alba said the most common devices found by the LAPD are pipe bombs and dry ice bombs, often used to blow up mailboxes.

On the other hand, Alba said, a package that contained four kittens was left on a doorstep in the Valley earlier this year. The resident called the bomb squad, the package was X-rayed and found to contain the sleeping kittens.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO Gridlock prevailed Wednesday morning as officials sea rched for a bomb in the LAX central terminal.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 1, 1996
Words:1050
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