Retired police officer still recalls bomb under his car

More than a generation has passed since the August night in 1975 when Sara Jane Olson and other Symbionese Liberation Army members tried to assassinate Los Angeles police officers by placing pipe bombs under squad cars.

But for John Hall, one of the officers targeted in the plot, the memories of that night and what might have been remain vivid.

Hall and his partner were leaving an International House of Pancakes restaurant in Hollywood when someone noticed a long, cylindrical object protruding from under their car.

When the bomb squad eventually disabled and removed the device, Hall learned how close his brush with death had been: One-sixteenth of an inch separated the two metal contacts from the bomb detonator.


Authorities estimated the explosive and tightly packed nails in the device would have killed or maimed up to several dozen people.

Victims would have included a baby girl in her high chair and her 8-year-old sister, who waved to the officers from behind the restaurant’s plate glass window as the officers were leaving, Hall said.

“It should have gone off,” said Hall, who served with the LAPD for 31 years before retiring in 2002. “That it didn’t was a stroke of extreme luck. The death toll would have been horrendous.”

Olson is expected to be released today from custody at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. However, state corrections authorities are still deciding, amid mounting pressure from Hall and others in law enforcement, whether she should be permitted supervised parole close to her family in the St. Paul, Minn., area, or be forced to stay in California. Already, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the St. Paul Police Federation and the Los Angeles City Council have gone on record opposing Olson’s out-of-state parole.

They were joined by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who on Monday wrote to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asking him to block Olson’s release to Minnesota.

Still, the last-ditch lobbying could be for naught given more recent history.

California authorities last year approved Olson’s request for supervised release in Minnesota -- days before they discovered they had miscalculated her sentence and ordered her to remain in prison for another year.

Legal experts have said that in light of prison overcrowding and the state’s budget woes, California should be happy that Minnesota was willing to take responsibility for Olson. The Minnesota Department of Corrections announced last week that the state was ready to allow Olson to serve her supervised parole in St. Paul’s Ramsey County as soon as California authorities gave the go-ahead.

Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said Olson’s request to serve probation in Minnesota is pending, and a decision is likely by the time she is released. But Hall and others say state corrections authorities should remember the life-and-death nature of the case. Had Olson committed her crimes today, she would have served a far longer sentence, they say.

“I have absolutely no forgiveness for this woman,” Hall said. “She is a terrorist, and she’s making a mockery of our system. She committed her crime in California, so that’s where she should do her time.”