Corona bomb scare forces evacuations of nearby school, apartments and mobile home park

Trevor Montgomery


CORONA – A man found unresponsive inside a rented van that contained a note warning of a bomb and “deadly gas” inside the vehicle led to the evacuation of a nearby school, apartment complex, and mobile home park. The incident also forced the closure of several nearby streets and lasted over eight hours.

In addition to hundreds of students who were affected, the day-long ordeal displaced nearly 1,000 evacuees from their residences for part of the day and into the evening on Tuesday, Feb. 9, Corona Police officials wrote in a press release.

The incident began at 10:23 a.m., when a property manager for the location discovered the van with the ominous warning parked behind a vacant business in a strip mall. The mall is located in the 800 block of North Main Street.

In addition to the warning of a bomb and poisonous gases, the property manager could see an unconscious man inside the vehicle. The witness immediately called 911 to report what he had found.

Corona Fire and Police Departments immediately responded to the call. During the long ordeal, Riverside County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit and Hazardous Device Team also provided assistance.

The threat of a bomb and potentially deadly gas inside the rented van caused emergency first responders to order the evacuation of nearby Parkridge Elemenary School. About 750 students and 80 staff members were transported by buses away from the area to Norco High School.

Residents from the Parkridge Meadows Apartments and Amberlite mobile home park were also evacuated from the area. Many residents waited nearby for hours, some still dressed in pajamas, hoping they would soon be allowed back to their homes.

Numerous law enforcement officers, fire personnel and paramedics spent most of the day staged in a nearby parking lot on Parkridge Avenue.

At about 1:55 p.m., the sheriff’s Hazardous Device Team deployed a tactical robot along with the Corona Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Team to investigate the threat. The robot broke out the back window of the van before backpacks and other containers were removed from the vehicle.

Officers used an X-ray to determine that no explosive devices were inside the van. However, members from Corona Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Team safely recovered approximately 2.5 gallons of toxic chemicals from inside the van, according to police officials.

Upon rendering the threat safe, Corona Fire personnel attempted to provide medical aid to the sole occupant of the van. The man was unresponsive and was pronounced dead by medical personnel at the scene.

A press release from Corona Police officials stated that after determining no further threat remained to the public, officers allowed residents to return to their homes at about 7:00 p.m.

The day after the harrowing ordeal, Corona Fire’s Hazardous Materials Team was still trying to determine the make-up of the chemicals and their role in the death investigation.

A press release from Riverside County Coroner’s officials identified the victim as Sami Malas, 47, of Corona. The release indicated Malas was declared dead at 7:10 p.m.

In the press release Corona Police, officials thanked the community for their patience and support during the lengthy investigation. Anyone with further information about this incident is encouraged to contact Sergeant Paul Mercado at (951) 736-2280. Callers can refer to incident file number 16-1616 and can remain anonymous.

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