UC Davis police announced Friday morning they have launched a criminal investigation into Thursday’s explosion and chemical find inside the Russell Park apartment of a campus researcher who sought treatment for hand injuries.
No one is in custody, and UCD Police Chief Matt Carmichael remained tight-lipped about what officers found that prompted them to evacuate dozens of people from their apartments — some for as long as 24 hours — and call in multiple bomb squads from as far away as Placer and El Dorado counties.
“The goal here is to make sure we conduct a competent and thorough investigation,” Carmichael said. “What’s important for our campus to know is that Russell Park is safe.”
At about 10 p.m. Thursday, Carmichael reported that some of the items taken from the apartment could not be safely transported. They were taken to an open field on the west end of campus and destroyed “in order to render them safe,” he said. As a result, nearby residents may have heard around eight popping or explosion-type sounds late Thursday night.
Campus officials issued an alert at 1:25 a.m. today, notifying residents that police action had ended at the complex and that residents could return home.
UCD spokesman Andy Fell said the day’s events began unfolding at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, when the unidentified researcher arrived at Sutter Davis Hospital with what has been described as non-life-threatening injuries to one of his hands. He reportedly told hospital staff the wounds stemmed from a small explosion inside his apartment.
Hospital staff contacted police, who went to the first-floor apartment and, based on what they found inside, immediately evacuated the surrounding apartments in the four-unit building at 418 Russell Park.
“I heard the cops banging on the doors, trying to see if anyone would open the door,” said UCD senior Heena Bal, who lives in a neighboring apartment. She described the commotion as “pretty crazy,” but said she wasn’t concerned for her safety.
“It’s not like it was some crazy violence, (but) it is unusual,” Bal said.
By the early afternoon, police had expanded the evacuation zone to include five buildings at Russell Park, as well as a sixth across the street at the Orchard Park apartment complex. That building was reopened to residents by Thursday evening.
About 40 units at the Russell Park complex were cleared in all, affecting more than 70 people, Carmichael said. Tandem Properties, which owns the complex, and Student Affairs were assisting the displaced residents with food vouchers and hotel rooms for those who needed a place to stay.
One Russell Park resident who said he’s known the injured researcher for several years described him as a “well-respected” chemistry major who earned his Ph.D. in the subject last year.
“He’s just the nicest guy in the world, very intelligent,” said Jan Wright, who teaches welding at the university and lives across a small playground from the researcher’s apartment. “He’s a really solid guy, maybe works a little too hard.”
Carmichael would not disclose whether the man was performing university-related work inside his apartment, though “obviously, lab work is not allowed to take place in a residential environment,” he said. He also would not say whether he expected criminal charges to result from the incident.
For some officers, Thursday’s incident triggered memories of the mass evacuation of the Tercero Hall housing complex in March 2008, when campus police arrested a freshman who had potentially explosive materials, pipe-bomb shells and fuses inside his dorm room. No injuries resulted from that incident.
— Reach Lauren Keene at email@example.com or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene