YOLO COUNTY NEWS
David Snyder and his attorney, Linda Parisi, are interviewed outside the Yolo County Courthouse in March. Enterprise file photo

Crime, Fire + Courts

Court testimony sheds light on UCD blast

By From page A1 | July 30, 2013

WOODLAND — A second man is expected to face criminal charges for allegedly removing evidence from the apartment of a former UC Davis chemistry researcher accused of stashing volatile explosives-making chemicals and weapons in the on-campus residence.
Tashari El-Sheikh was identified publicly for the first time Friday in Yolo Superior Court during the preliminary hearing for David Scott Snyder, who according to police instructed El-Sheikh to remove incriminating items from his Russell Park apartment on Jan. 17 after an accidental explosion tore through Snyder’s left hand.
Authorities later recovered four boxes of chemicals — including substances that tested positive for the explosives triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD) — from trash dumpsters at two West Davis apartment complexes, court testimony revealed.
“We probably will be filing the case shortly,” Yolo County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral said following Friday’s hearing, which is slated to resume Sept. 6. Judge David Reed will then rule whether there is sufficient evidence for Snyder to stand trial.
The 32-year-old Snyder, a UCD graduate working as a junior research specialist at the time of his arrest, has pleaded not guilty to 17 felony counts including reckless disposal of hazardous waste, possession of a destructive device or explosive, possession of materials with intent to make a destructive device, and possession of a firearm on university grounds.
A friend of Snyder’s since childhood, El-Sheikh is identified on UCD’s online directory as a postdoctoral employee in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department, but he is currently out of the country and facing immigration issues, Cabral said Friday.
 
“I don’t know whether he’ll be back or not,” Cabral said. If he does return, “he’ll be facing charges.”
 
Friday’s testimony also shed light on the various substances that Snyder allegedly had stored in his apartment, the cleanup of which resulted in the evacuations of 40 surrounding apartments and a nearby day-care center during the 20-hour removal process.
 
In addition to the TATP and HMTD — both of which are considered highly unstable — bomb technicians detected the presence of nitroglycerin, ammonium nitrate aluminum powder and the ingredients for making black powder, said Jason Winger, a West Sacramento police sergeant and Yolo County Bomb Squad member.
Explosive-manufacturing operations “are extremely dangerous in and of themselves,” Winger testified under questioning by prosecutor Martha Holzapfel. To make them in a residential setting “extends that danger … to everybody in the surrounding dwellings.”
 
In addition to the chemicals, bomb technicians came across an improvised detonator on a dresser in Snyder’s apartment that exploded during a remote testing procedure, according to Winger.
 
Authorities say El-Sheikh got involved in the case shortly after Snyder transported himself to Sutter Davis Hospital for treatment of his hand injury. 
El-Sheikh told UCD police Detective Kevin Skaife that Snyder phoned him from the Sutter Davis Hospital emergency room that morning, “and he was asked to dispose of some items,” Skaife testified Friday.
“He said David asked him to move them so he wouldn’t get into trouble,” Skaife said. He testified that El-Sheikh gathered the chemicals into boxes — retrieving a couple from his own Russell Park apartment when he ran out at Snyder’s — and moved them to various trash Dumpsters in the Davis city limits.
Skaife said El-Sheikh that same day led officers to the hiding spots, which included two apartment complexes in the 2900 block of Portage Bay West — the Arlington Farms and Portage Bay Apartments. A plastic box containing syringes El-Sheikh reportedly stashed in a Dumpster at the Save Mart shopping center on Anderson Road was never found.
Inside the apartment, El-Sheikh moved several firearms from Snyder’s bed into a nearby gun safe, which later was found to contain five firearms, two knives and a large amount of ammunition, Skaife testified.
Later that day, when police attempted to question El-Sheikh about Snyder’s vehicle, El-Sheikh said he had been contacted by an attorney and told “not to answer any more questions,” Skaife said.
Snyder was not believed to be plotting an attack on the campus or elsewhere in the community, campus police have said.
His attorney, Linda Parisi, has described Snyder as “the kind of chemist that was always tinkering and experimenting with things.”
Earlier Friday, UCD police Detective Joanne Zekany testified about her interviews with Snyder’s colleagues in the chemistry department, several of whom reported seeing Snyder taking chemicals that had been set aside for disposal and making fireworks and TATP in campus labs.
Zekany said the latter incident occurred on Jan. 9, just eight days before the accidental explosion, when Snyder showed a UCD graduate student a two-page manual for manufacturing TATP.
“He then made a comment to her how it was Hamas’ favorite explosive,” Zekany said. She testified that Snyder proceeded to make the explosive, after which “he told her not to tell anybody.”
Those same colleagues described Snyder as “experienced” and “very knowledgeable” about chemistry research, Zekany said under cross-examination by Parisi, though one added that “he would do things that she did not feel comfortable doing herself.”
Snyder, who is no longer employed by UCD, remains free on a $2 million bail bond while his case is pending.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

Lauren Keene

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