By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1
“I knew it was a bomb the second it exploded. I felt it rip through me with a force more powerful and terrible than anything I could imagine. It blew right through my car seat, shattering my pelvis, crushing my lower backbone, and leaving me instantly paralyzed. Slumped over in my seat, unable to move, I couldn’t feel my legs, but desperate pain filled my body. I didn’t know such pain existed. I could feel the life force draining from me, and I knew I was dying. I tried to think of my children’s faces to find a reason to stay alive, but the pain was too great, and I couldn’t picture them.”
—Judi Bari’s recollection of the bombing, February 2, 1990.
“I heard a ‘crack’, and my head began to ring like a sitar…like ‘nnnnnnnnnrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’, and the car came to a screeching halt. The first thought in my mind was, ‘Oh no, not again!’ because last August we had been rear-ended by a logging truck without ever seeing it coming, and here we are again, me and Judi in a car. But this time, my head was bleeding and I knew I had a seat belt on, and I couldn’t figure out how come my head was bleeding if I hadn’t hit the windshield. Then I heard somebody scream out. ‘It’s a bomb, there was a bomb!’ And then it all made sense; somebody had tried to kill us.”
—Darryl Cherney’s account of the bombing, May 24, 1990.
At this point, Cherney looked over at Bari where, “she was slumped in her seat, screaming in pain, but as far as I could tell, her body was in one peace.” Bari recalls only being able to make guttural sounds in an attempt to say “help” and vaguely recalls that Cherney kept repeating “I love you,” to her, and that she was going to live, in spite of what had happened.
The blast distorted Bari’s white 1981 Sabaru GL car’s unibody frame, tore out its left side and sent debris and heavy blue-grey smoke flying into the air. It blew out some of the windows and left a trail of fragments on Park Boulevard. The shattered, smoking car veered 100 feet down the road, clipping parked cars and light poles along the way, and hit another vehicle—a delivery truck driven by 40-year-old Ken Rich from Castro Valley—before coming to a stop against a curb in front of Oakland High School, where students were jogging as part of their physical education class. Had the explosion occurred just forty minutes later, it might have injured the students crossing the road to patronize the local shops for lunch. The nearby public school’s officials would keep the students inside campus buildings for several hours until the blast area was declared safe. Rich’s vehicle then hit a woman pedestrian who had a heart attack. He had happened to have been driving the other way, and noticed the smoke billowing from Bari’s vehicle just before it hit his own.
The explosion startled the workers and owners at nearby businesses. “It sounded like they dropped a bomb from a jet or something,” recalled the manager of a nearby Oil Changers, “the whole street just shook.” One of the garage mechanics, who identified himself as “Charles”, added, “It sounded like a cherry bomb in a tin can. It was pretty loud. I kind of felt it in my body, and I was inside.” Sokhi Dosanjli, the clerk at a local convenience store reported that the smoke was so thick that, “You couldn’t see anything for awhile”, including the nearby MacArthur Freeway.
Shannon Mar was immediately aware that something had gone horribly wrong. Since she was leading the way, she did not immediately see the blast, but she quickly heard it and smelled the residue of explosives. She recalled, “The car shook, heat rushed through the windows, and I smelled sulfur. I looked in the rear-view mirror, and (all I could see was) smoke.” Bari’s car rolled past her own just before hitting Ken Rich’s vehicle and then hitting the curb. Marr immediately came to a stop, exited her car, and ran to Bari’s bombed-out vehicle (where Ken Rich was already standing) to determine the condition of her friends. Marr said, “Judi was stuck in her seat. She kept saying, ‘It hurts. It hurts. I can’t breathe.’ Darryl had a gash over one eye and it was gushing blood.”
Meanwhile, Dave Kemnitzer had fallen slightly behind, but by now he had arrived near the intersection of MacArthur and Park Boulevards. He emerged from his vehicle screaming, “It’s the loggers! The loggers are trying to kill us!” At that moment, Ken Rich ran to Bari’s car and saw Cherney emerge. He recalled, “I’ve been in Vietnam and I’ve seen bombed out cars before. This one took a heavy hit. I’m amazed the people are still alive.” Rich had been trained in first aid, but he described Bari’s car as “so mangled” that he felt it would be more effective, “to let the paramedics treat the victims.” He then recalled Marr running up to him, exclaiming, “They’re my friends!”
Bob Vandemeer, the president of a San Rafael demolitions company, just happened to have been driving behind Bari on his way to an Oakland A’s baseball game. The force of the explosion made him bounce up in the seat of his pickup truck. He then noticed, “a big blue cloud of smoke (which) smelled like gunpowder. (Then) things started falling from the air—parts of (Bari’s) car.” After the explosion, he immediately summoned police from his mobile telephone. He then approached the vehicle where Rich, Marr, and Kemnitzer were congregating. He, like Rich, reported, “(Bari) was unconscious, and sort of smashed up against the door on the driver’s side…As I approached, (Cherney) popped up, bleeding pretty bad all over. He started yelling, “Help! Get me out of here!”