Freak accident blamed in blast

A 300-pound metal pipe encased in concrete hurtled through the air and crashed through the roof of a home next door to a synagogue in Santa Monica, prompting an ultimately unfounded bomb scare.

In the end, authorities concluded that it was a "freak industrial accident" that sent the pipe flying early Thursday morning.

"We're absolutely positive it was not a terrorist act or a hate crime," said Santa Monica Fire Capt. Judah Mitchell.

Authorities initially feared that a pipe bomb had exploded next to the Chabad House synagogue, a modest blue building on 17th Street between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard. It occurred about 6:45 a.m. as a small group of congregants were holding their daily morning service.

Police evacuated the synagogue and surrounding area and shut down nearby streets. The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives descended on the scene, along with several other agencies.

Mitchell said the pipe had been in a plastic bin with some construction debris in the walkway between Chabad House and the lot next door. No explosives or incendiary devices were found at the scene.

Mitchell said some type of chemical reaction propelled the pipe into the air and partly through the roof of a guest house at the back of the property, about 25 feet away. Officials took samples of the debris for testing.

Eleven-year-old Eliana Lieberman, who lives with her mother in the guest house, was asleep when the pipe came crashing onto the roof of her room and cracked the ceiling.

"It looked like space junk," she said.

Lieberman's mother, Janti Rashti, 50, said she thought at first that an earthquake had struck. When she saw the pipe sitting on top of the roof, she called the police.

"My God, I'm glad nothing serious happened because they told me it was very heavy, very huge," said Rashti, who attends the synagogue.

Next door, Rabbi Isaac Levitansky was leading the service and did not hear the crash.

His brother and co-rabbi, Eli Levitansky, said he heard a boom but thought nothing of it until police arrived and told everyone to evacuate. The group continued its prayers on the corner outside.

Meanwhile, synagogue members tried to reassure frantic relatives and friends who had seen early reports suggesting the blast was caused by a bomb.

Eli Levitansky's wife, Mirel Levitansky, 30, said friends and family called from as far as New York and Israel.


Times staff writers Sam Allen and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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