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Van on Pa. Ave. Had Fake Bomb

Driver Charged With Threats

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page B01

The man who threatened to blow up his van near the White House had several canisters of gasoline in his vehicle when he was approached by the Secret Service, according to charging papers filed yesterday in federal court.

Displaying some sort of switching device, Lowell W. Timmers allegedly declared, "I have 10 gallons of gas in here and I will blow up the van and the White House," according to the court papers.

The four-hour standoff began Wednesday afternoon when the driver of a red van loaded with gasoline approached a White House gate. (Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)

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Explosives experts later determined that Timmers had configured what one official called a "hoax device" -- assembled to look like a bomb but not capable of detonating.

A day after the four-hour standoff ended with his peaceful surrender, Timmers, 54, looked a bit unsettled, anxiously scanning the courtroom yesterday as he appeared before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson. She ordered him held without bond on a charge of making threats, pending a hearing Tuesday.

Timmers, of Cedar Springs, Mich., prompted a massive law enforcement response and widespread traffic detours after he drove his van to a Secret Service gate at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The area beyond the gate is a secure portion of the White House grounds. Authorities said Timmers demanded that his son-in-law be released from jail. The ordeal ended when police negotiators persuaded Timmers to give up.

A neighbor who answered the phone at Timmers's home yesterday said the family was not there and would have no immediate comment. The Grand Rapids Press yesterday quoted Timmers's wife, Gloria, as saying that the man her husband referred to is engaged to the couple's daughter and that he is facing deportation.

The fiance, a Guatemalan citizen whom Gloria Timmers would identify only as Manuel, was taken into custody by immigration authorities two weeks ago, she told the Grand Rapids newspaper. Frustrated and hopeful that Michigan's senators and his representative would be able to help him, Lowell Timmers set off for Washington on Monday, his wife told the paper.

"He's not a bad guy," she said. "He just wanted his voice heard. By golly, they've heard it now."

Police recovered six five-gallon metal gasoline canisters inside the van, along with six glass canisters containing a yellowish liquid, according to the charging papers.

A law enforcement official familiar with explosives said the gasoline might have had a maximum blast radius of 150 to 200 feet. It would have broken car windows, damaged property and burned people within that radius, the official said.

Theodore Lemoff, principal gases engineer with the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit organization in Cambridge, Mass., that helps develop fire and safety codes, said the threat posed by 30 gallons of gasoline would be limited.

"He's going to kill himself easily," Lemoff said. "I wouldn't want to be within about 25 feet of that. . . . Then you get into problems of parts that are going to fly over me or hit me. But in terms of a building, probably, you might break some windows just by shrapnel, but I don't think it would be any more than superficial damage."

Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company