A pipe bomb Friday destroyed a van driven by the wife of the skipper of the USS Vincennes, which mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner last year. Authorities suspect it was a terrorist attack.
Sharon Rogers escaped just seconds before the van burst into flames.A Justice Department source in Washington who spoke anonymously said investigators suspect the bombing was the work of terrorists. The FBI said it had not ruled anything out.
Mrs. Rogers was uninjured and was taken to a police station, where she was joined by her husband, Capt. Will Rogers III. Rogers was home at the time of the blast and authorities placed the family under protection.
Mrs. Rogers, a school teacher, was driving alone to school and was stopped at a red light when the bomb exploded at 7:45 a.m. The pipe bomb was planted on the underside of the white Toyota van, police spokesman Bill Robinson said.
"She got out just as it blew," said Kurt Lent, a construction worker who witnessed the explosion.
Investigators went to the Rogers' home to check for other bombs, and authorities investigated a report of a vehicle following Mrs. Rogers.
"There was a vehicle that was observed in the area at the time of the detonation, and we're looking into that right now," said FBI spokesman Ronald Orrantia.
The Navy increased its security at the San Diego Navy base and other facilities, Navy Chief Craig Huebler said. Other Vincennes crew members and their families were notified.
The Vincennes, a guided-missile cruiser based in San Diego, returned from its six-month Persian Gulf deployment last October. It remains in port and Rogers remains its skipper.
As the Vincennes exchanged fire with Iranian speedboats last July 3, Iran Air Flight 655 appeared on the U.S. warship's high-tech radar. After the plane failed to respond to warnings on civilian and military channels, Rogers gave the order to fire.
The decision, he said later, was in defense of his ship and crew. But what Rogers feared was an Iranian F-14 fighter actually was an Airbus A300 with 290 people aboard, all of whom died. The Reagan administration defended the decision but also decided to compensate the victims' families.
After the shooting, Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for an all-out war against the United States. Speculation after the December destruction of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, focused on whether that bombing was in retaliation for the Vincennes' action.
FBI special agent Gene Riehl said investigators did not know whether the van bombing was in retaliation for the Iran Air shooting.
"The fact that she is the wife of the captain of the Vincennes, you could draw your own conclusions about whether it's a random bombing or there's some connection. We're not making any suppositions."
In Washington, Navy officials at the Pentagon said they were unaware of any threats against Rogers or his family, but were awaiting additional reports from San Diego.
Robinson said no other bombs were found on the van. The blast and fire shattered the van's windows, flattened its tires and melted its paint.
Lent, who watched the van explode, said he heard a pair of backfires, separated by a 10-second interval, and then a loud explosion.
"It went `Boom!' `Boom!', then `Bam!"' he said. "It worked real quick."
After seeing Mrs. Rogers get out of the van, Lent ran to the flaming vehicle to make sure no one was inside. He and fellow workers directed traffic while their supervisor escorted her to a pickup.