BREAKING NEWS — Car Explodes in Penrose

by ARLnow.com January 11, 2011 at 9:07 am 23,077 109 Comments

(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) A white BMW exploded around 8:15 a.m. this morning in the Penrose neighborhood. Police say they believe the blast was accidental.

The explosion happened on 9th Street South between Veitch Street and Courthouse Road. No one was hurt, according to fire department spokesperson Lt. Ed Hughes.

“It appears to be an accident,” said police spokesperson Det. Crystal Nosal. “Nothing at this point leads us to believe it’s intentional.”

The car was parked in front of a single family home, but in proximity of two large apartment complexes: Dorchester Towers and 2121 Columbia Pike Apartments. It is three to four blocks away from the high-security headquarters of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

A witness who lives in Dorchester Towers says heavily-armed police apprehended an approximately 18-year-old male on the fifth floor of the building. So far, authorities are emphatic in their description of the man — who was led away in handcuffs around 10:15 a.m. — as a “person of interest” and not a “suspect.” Witnesses say the man was seen running from the scene of the explosion.

Police say the man and two other witnesses are being questioned, but are not currently “in custody,” as earlier reported. Det. Nosal said she believes the people seen fleeing the scene were merely “running away from an explosion.”

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein is reporting that an acetylene torch had been stored in the back of the car. A police source has also told ARLnow.com that the car belonged to a worker who had an acetylene tank, used for welding, in the trunk.

A member of the bomb squad is currently examining the car for signs of other explosive materials. Arlington police and firefighters have also cordoned off the parking lot in front of Dorchester Towers. Earlier, a robot and bomb dogs searched 9th Street and did not find any other explosives.

  • Rover

    Wow! Who lives there? Was the car occupied at the time?

  • I was two blocks away, walking towards Courthouse Rd from Columbia Pike when the explosion happened — loud and the ground shook. No smoke or anything though. Firetruck arrived right before my bus did, so by the time we left the bus stop, no police cars were there yet. Lots of us at the bus stop heard it, some witnessed it.

    • I always wondered who are the people I can see from my balcony waiting for the bus…One a day like today they should have the Red Cross bring you folks coffe and donuts.

      The building I live in is undergoing extensive renovations, so I’m getting used to the odd banging here and there. Usually, about the time I’m getting dressed to bike into work, some worker out in the hall is totally immersed in the task of pounding a steel door frame with a hammer until I want to scoop my own brains out and fling them against the wall.

      I wasn’t prepared for something exploding outside. Not a pop, or the sharp metalic crunch of a car accident, but a concussion wave that I felt more than I heard, that rattled the windows and set off car alarms.

      I jerked open the sliding glass doors to the balcony and could see on the street to my left a thin, dark plume of smoke that rose and immediately dissipated. The car was obvious, it’s back end turned into a shredded metal party favor. A guy on the balcony a floor above me was already on the phone, apparently calling 911. Two women who live on my floor and, like most tenants here, I’ve never met, were standing in their floor-to-ceiling windows in their bathrobes, mouths hanging open like they were on one side or the other of the glass in the monkey house, which is completely understandable. I waited until the first fire truck rounded the street and went inside to finish dressing. I finished in another 10-15 minutes — my winter biking clothes might as well be a space suit — grabbed my Oregon Scientific helmet camera and clipped it into place and went out to film some blog-ready footage.

      Of course, everyone thought it was a bomb, a bomb being something intentional. Someone else said someone said somebody said two guys were seen running from the scene, another word-of-mouth piece of evidence for the explosion being a deliberate act. My first thought, seeing the scene close up, the lack of fire damage or any debris save from the car, and remembering the thin plume of smoke, was that it was a propane tank.

      In Arizona I was once on the scene of a car fire. A car on fire with a large propane tank in the trunk. Luckily it was so large the trunk couldn’t be closed and so helping put out the fire quickly because secondary to getting the hel out of there. Same thing: Massive explosion that burnt out quickly. The car wasn’t even on fire after, the explosion paradoxically blowing out the fire.

      The most amusing thing about the coverage is the shots of the robots brought to the scene. Before, there were people milling about, cops wondering who was bringing donuts (yes, donuts, they’re a theme) tenants getting feet away, no sense of apparent danger.

      So I can only assume the robots were brought in as a sort of budgetary theater, but then, I’m kind of cynical.

      • Man, we need an edit function to spare me the embarrassment of typing “One a day like today”. Really.

      • Yeah, by the time I walked the two blocks to the stop, there was no smoke — I didn’t even realize where the explosion happened until the firetrucks arrived, since the view of the car was blocked by the many parked cars on the lot and street (and yep, 2 blocks away on Columbia Pike the ground shook too, so I also knew it was an explosion, not just a loud noise). Just an odd day — and thankfully no one got hurt.

  • Theory

    Propane Tank?

    • MB

      Possibly. That’s no battery problem.

  • JamesE

    Are you sure it isn’t a Ford Pinto?

    • Courthouse Resident


  • Paula

    Another BMW??

    • jan

      that was my thought

  • BallstonDude

    New meaning to the Arlington song when he mentions German cars backfiring…

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  • Neighbor

    I was wondering what that sound was. I live three blocks away and heard it. I thought it was the apartment building construction. Crazy.

    • FrenchyB

      Same here – I just thought one of the cranes dropped something heavy at Penrose Square.

  • James

    I was parked 2 cars in front of that car…had BMW peices underneath and on the bed cap of my truck! Crazy site to see in the AM.

    • Arl-Lady


    • James

      I just found the rear view mirror lodge in between the bed of my truck and window! Wonder if I should call the cops…

      • Emily

        Yes, you should call them and also avoid touching it with anything or moving it; they can get good evidence from it.

  • Black Flag


  • Smy

    I was actually in the BMW when it happened. It was crazy and loud. I though it was a dump truck running over me, but then I realized that it was actually my BMW exploding. Oh well, you live and learn.

    • We have your I.P. address and will be paying you a visit in 5, 4, 3, 2 ……

      • CrystalMikey

        Hahaha love it!

    • Emily

      Or die and learn? /

  • frat boy

    my brown flip flops were in the trunk damn it!

  • Darwin

    I know it’s early and there are little to no facts available but we can only conclude that it must in some way be Sarah Palin’s fault.

    • mehoo

      Of course it was Sarah Palin’s fault – she shot the BMW with her surveyor’s equipment.

      • KT

        There was a bear cub hiding in the trunk and Sarah found that the easiest way to kill it.

        • Arlingtonian

          Or a motha-humpin’ moose

    • CJR

      +1 Thanks for the laugh. My conclusion as well, must be related to Sarah Palin or Fox News

  • Arlingtonian

    What the heck, I didn’t even hear anything and I’m right here! I hope I’m not losing my hearing or something

  • barstooltestpilot

    An important question is where was this going before it detonated prematurely?

    • Darwin

      Hard to say, I hear a lot of BMW drivers have a problem with “premature dentoation”.

      • Arlingtonian


      • Neighbor

        (evil giggle)

      • Dude Where’s My Car

        Is that an octane joke? “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Premature Detonation.” “Premature Deto–” BOOOOOOMMMM!!!

  • Arl Rat

    I got there at 8:30 to catch my bus, parked right on the corner on courthouse rd. and was shocked that no one said anything. Lots of bystanders….but everyone went on their way, business as usual.

    • Beemer

      No, no surprise. BMWs do that.

  • KalashniKEV


    I seriously hope Jihad stays in South Arlington and doesn’t migrate North…

    • South Arlington

      As long as North Arlington holds onto the vagrants, property crimes, public urination, and tire slashings, I’m OK with South Arlington having the occasional no-injury car explosion.

      • KalashniKEV

        If Hadj’ wants to get it poppin’ in the corridor I think he’d have a much tougher time conducting attacks- given the backgrounds of the workers and residents of the area.

      • Although I live in South Arlington, I make time to visit North Arlington to urinate on things.

    • CrystalCity’er


      I seriously hope douches like you stay in North Arlington and doesn’t migrate South…

      • KalashniKEV

        Don’t worry… no one wants to blow up Crystal City. Whatever’s there is leaving and soon it will be a ghost town. (just like every night after 7)

        • CrystalCity’er

          No, it’s only that way when you’re around… the stench alerts us way beforehand.

          • KalashniKEV

            Awwwwwww…. SCHNAPPPPPS!!!

          • CrystalCity’er


  • TP Party

    No, this was a retaliatory strike by Sherrif Dupnik. The owner of the Bimmer is an outspoken fan of Rush Limbaugh and Sherrif Joe Arpaio.

  • Siena Parkian

    I felt the explosion this morning, right as I was pulling out of my parking garage one block away–it shook my car.

  • Chris

    WTOP says it was a aceteyline torch that was stored in the trunk.

    • Sean

      So it seems what we have here is a case of Felony Stupid…

    • Darwin

      Oh good, I was worried Arlington had adopted a stronger parking violation policy than just putting the boot on your car!

  • Charlie

    Don’t violate the parking rules.

  • Moderator?

    Geez… isn’t there a moderator for these comments? Maybe three of the above comments aren’t jokes.

    • stevis

      Jokes are a common way of relieving tension in stressful or surprising situations. Given that nobody was hurt, I don’t see the problem here.

      • I just wanted to say good luck, we’re all counting on you.

        (A good Airplane reference thread should piss ’em off nicely)

        • Ted Striker

          Surely you can’t be serious?

          • Arlingtonian

            I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley!

    • mehoo

      Maybe you should go get a sense of humor.

      • Moderator?

        It’s just frustrating to have to read through all the noise to get to any real information or commentary.

        • CadeTyler

          That’s what she said!

        • R.Griffon

          I’m with you. Some of these commenters can be so bombastic…

        • charlie

          and yet you have posted TWICE without… saying … anything.
          if I have an issue with ARLNOW i send them an email. ANd I get RESULTS.

  • us_heart

    I live right across the street, I came from Iraq recently, I heard the blast and it took me a second i thought “If I’m in america now, then what the hell was that! I thought I’m done with those sounds. I pray it isn’t one of those freaks who use religion for their sick goals.

    • mehoo

      Nah, don’t worry, there are no religious freaks or violent nuts in America.

  • Jon B

    How does someone is probably is employed as a welder or plumber type afford a BMW?

    • CrystalMikey

      Late model

    • jan

      Haven’t you hired a plumber lately?

      • Arlingtonian

        Yeah, some plumbers do make mad bank, especially those that own their own businesses.

    • mehoo

      I hired a kitchen contractor once. He showed up in a Mercedes.

    • John,

      My father worked for ConEd in New York and I worked billboards in Arizona with a retired high-steel welder.

      Welding is an art. I’m serious. Welding has at least a dozen sub-types (http://www.ajeepthing.com/welding.html) and a good welder, not a master welder, just a guy that can run a seam and not get the rod stuck, probably makes more than you do.

      Admittedly, he’s a dumb-ass for keeping the rig in the trunk, but since when has there been a firm money/intelligence connection?

  • The entrance to DISA is actually about 1 block away from the incident.

    The car appeared to have exploded from the inside: quarter panels bent and twisted along with the roof. No evidence of fire, and no gasoline leaking on the ground (amazing!). Whatever happened, it definitely happened *inside* the car. There was glass everywhere, even across the street in the parking lot of the apartment building where the police were interviewing people. It’s weird to see glass on car roofs like a light snowfall.

    I suppose it could have been an acetylene canister failing, but those things are supposed to be pretty indestructible. Also, unlikely to be something stored in the trunk, as the owner of the car was pretty surprised that it exploded. They also picked-up someone in the area for questioning, which wouldn’t be expected had the owner said “oh, yeah, I keep pressure vessels in my trunk all the time and this one must have exploded”.

    • mehoo

      Perhaps gas leaked into the trunk and was contained there, then that went off. Makes a good bomb.

    • Dude Where’s My Car

      This sounds suspiciously like an episode of Burn Notice. Did anyone see Michael Weston in the neighborhood? Any discarded yogurt containers? As for “pretty indestructible” cylinders, it made me think of this US Chemical Safety Board video involving propylene cylinders blowing up. The explosion at Praxair in St. Louis involved hot summer days (> 100 degrees F.) The pressure relief valve opened prematurely. Which is pretty much the opposite of a car trunk outside in the winter :-), but… I’m sure someone will be looking for the cause.

  • Political Advisor

    In an attempt to help get out of the national debt, Arlington County has now cut all parking tickets and traffic police. They now place a cheap explosive in the back of your car. It beats spending gas on towing too.

  • Arlingtonian

    okay now they have people coming in and out of the dorchester towers building … a whole line of firemen, bomb squad etc.

  • dominionpr

    Just so that no one gets confused as into what street this occured or what part of town, this was in SOUTH Courthouse Rd. Unlike North Arlington people and the rest of the Washingtonians who think that North Courthouse is the only Courthouse in Arlington, there is actually a South Courthouse Road in Arlington as well.

    • CW

      I’m pretty sure most people reading this would assume that this sort of thing could only occur in South Arlington to begin with.

      If it had been on North Courthouse road, the response would likely have been quicker and with much more fanfare (i.e. all of ACPD emptying out in under 30 seconds, all buildings locked down, etc.)…

      • Neighbor

        If you read the Arlington Crime report, at least 75% of the incidents happen in NORTH Arlington and a the rest mostly by Pentagon City. With DISA, the Pentagon nearby, that area of South Arlington is as safe as it gets. Except for 9/11, this explosion and two other incidents are the worst that I can remember. Can’t say that for NA.

        • Arlingtonian

          I agree. This is a pretty quiet little neighborhood. I’ve always felt safe here, especially since several police officers actually live in the area.

        • The Pope of South Arlington

          In the 80’s a guy was transporting an anti-tank gun in his pick-up truck and it went off and blew up the gas station at the intersection of Columbia pike and Dinwiddie.

          • AllenB

            I shouldn’t be laughing at that but it just reminds me of something that could happen in an old Leslie Neilsen movie (may he RIP).

        • John Antonelli

          You have missed some murders including same in the Dorchester Apartments

  • G. Clifford Prout

    Oh wait.. There’s a car with a propane tank in the front seat outside of my house. Should anyone do something. APD looked at it the other day and let it go.

  • Teyo

    On a tangential note, I’ve always wondered about those four houses that seem to be on DISA property but not actually part of their installation. What’s up with that?

  • Arlwhenever

    Thanks to all. I haven’t had a good laugh like this in days, since the horror of last Saturday.

  • spooner

    talk about “bump in the trunk”

  • The Pope of South Arlington

    This wont stop the meter maids! No rear license plate, no county sticker, no inspection sticker….

    • Arlingtonian

      They probably came out and put a ticket on it while the bomb squad was looking at it.

      • Dude Where’s My Car

        LOL. like that scene in Heavy Metal where Captain Sternn is brought up on 12 counts of murder, 22 counts of piracy, 37 counts of rape, etc. “…and one moving violation.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YE3J27ApS_8

      • The Pope of South Arlington

        The guy could be dead in the front seat and they’d put ’em in his shirt pocket.

    • South Arlingtonian

      This is the new way in Arlington – Park in a restricted area or a No Parking zone and you no longer get towed… You just get your car blown up. That’s the way we roll in Arlington.

  • Jorge

    Should by American.

    • CadeTyler

      Just like you should’ve bought an American grammar textbook.

  • Dude Where’s My Car

    oh and fyi it’s “acetylene.”

  • John Fontain

    “So far, authorities are emphatic in their description of the man — who was led away in handcuffs around 10:15 a.m. — as a “person of interest” and not a “suspect.”

    suspect (noun): a person of interest in a crime

    • Dude Where’s My Car

      lol. maybe the cuffs are slightly looser if you aren’t actually being arrested.

  • Arlington, Northside

    Battery is in the trunk of a BMW. If the valve on the cylinder was not completel closed it could easily fill the trunk over night with even a tiny leak. Come out in the am, turn the key and the tiny spark at the battery makes things go boom, or could be a remote starter, etc.

  • KalashniKEV

    I’m glad that in the end, this wasn’t MS-13 related. I didn’t think they had made their way that far east on the Pike yet…

    • CrystalCity’er

      Seriously, your ignorance is astounding.

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  • IF the man isn’t a suspect, why did they take him away in handcuffs?
    This is the USA, in order to arrest someone they need to have Probable Cause to believe he committed a crime.

  • Very sad news, we have to enhance car security system to get rid of these types of accidents.


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