HEMET, Calif. (AP) — Four city trucks were torched in a Southern California town plagued by booby trap attacks on police officers, and authorities said Wednesday the fires might be linked to the previous attempts.
The city code enforcement trucks were discovered burning at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday at a Hemet City Hall parking lot about two blocks from the police department, authorities said. The trucks were empty and no one was hurt.
Although the trucks are not issued to police, investigators believe the arson is connected to threats and booby-trap attacks aimed at an anti-gang task force in Hemet, a desert city about 85 miles east of Los Angeles.
"The flames were going 2 to 3 feet above the truck in both the cab area and the hood area," police Chief Richard Dana said.
Television reports showed scorched hoods on the white trucks, which are used by city code enforcement officers to respond to complaints.
One man who ran when police arrived was briefly detained but found to be unconnected to the fires and released, Dana said.
A 911 caller on Friday warned that a police car would be blown up within 24 to 48 hours in the Hemet-San Jacinto as retaliation for a crackdown against the Vagos Motorcycle Club.
About 30 members of the Vagos, California's largest motorcycle gang, were arrested in Riverside County last week as part of a crackdown across the state and in Arizona, Nevada and Utah.
Since Dec. 31, police officers have survived three attempts to kill them using bizarre booby traps.
A natural gas pipe was rerouted into the headquarters of a gang task force but the flammable gas was smelled before anyone was hurt, police said.
In a second attack, a gun rigged to a security fence at the same building went off when an officer opened the gate but the bullet missed.
The third attack involved placing an explosive device to a police officer's unmarked car. The device was discovered after he had driven to a convenience store. Police suspect the device was attached to the car but fell off.
"It's a constant pressure, a constant stress," Dana said.
"An officer goes out and they try to protect the public," Dana told KTLA-TV. "And at the same time you have to look over your own shoulder to see who's after you, or to look underneath your patrol car before you can get back in if it's been out of sight for five minutes, that you have to wonder what's outside the door as you step out the police department, makes for a very tense working atmosphere."
A $200,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attacks.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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