UC Davis chemist arrested on explosives charges

It turns out I was wrong on Friday: That “‘small chemical explosion’ in a UC Davis student housing complex” wasn’t meth. The university researcher who set off the explosion, 32-year-old Ph.D. chemist David Snyder, was arrested over the weekend on explosives and firearms possession charges.

According to the Woodland, Calif., Daily Democrat:

The discovery of explosives came after a late-night visit to Sutter Davis Hospital by Snyder, who had apparently injured his hand in a small explosion while tinkering in his home laboratory. Hospital staff called police, prompting them to investigate the apartment.

UCD police evacuated about 70 Russell Park residents early Thursday morning and allowed them to come back early Friday. A total of 40 units had been evacuated, most of them fourplexes.

Following the explosion, campus police searched Snyder’s apartment and discovered materials that can be used in making bombs, along with firearms. Some of the chemicals were found to be unsafe and were disposed in an open area east of campus.

“He also had explosives in his possession as well as the ingredients for making explosives,” said Yolo County Bomb Squad Commander Nick Concolino.

UCD police had several bomb teams assisting them including the ATF, FBI, Yolo County bomb team, Sacramento County bomb team and CHP. Concolino said the number of units was appropriate for the level of explosives that needed to be removed, taking a total of 20 hours.

If the bomb squad didn’t take the chemicals out to a firing range for detonation, then I’m guessing the material was rather unstable. A 2011 story about bomb squad training indicates there’s a range close by.

A local television station, News10, adds that:

Authorities won’t comment on the quantity, or specific types of chemicals.

“We are talking about chemical mixtures that are primary explosives and also secondary explosives,” Commander Nick Concolino of the Yolo County Bomb Squad said. “There was an evacuation done because of a clear and present danger to the public.”

Snyder’s apartment complex was evacuated along with five other housing complexes, and a daycare.

Police also wouldn’t comment on the fertilizer and paper targets that were removed and won’t say how or where he got the chemicals. Authorities would only say many can be legally obtained.

“A lot of the items can be obtained over counter and by themselves can’t constitute a violation of crime but the mere fact they’re put together creates an actual explosive,” Carmichael explained.

As for a shaft of pipe that was venting out of the apartment bedroom window, News10 reports that it was just an “air conditioning attachment and is not considered suspicious.”

UC Davis spokesperson Claudia Morain tells C&EN that investigators are looking into whether Snyder used UC Davis chemicals or equipment.

Snyder’s education and work history, according to UC Davis:

Snyder received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UC Davis in 2004 and a Ph.D., also in chemistry, in December 2011. After earning his doctorate, he held a temporary one-year research appointment through UCSF that allowed him to work at UC Davis. That position ended in November. His current temporary job with UC Davis began in December.

The specific charges are:

  • Felony possession of an explosive, California Penal Code 18715
  • Felony possession of any substance, material, or any combination of substances or materials, with the intent to make any destructive device or any explosive, California Penal Code 18720
  • Possession of a firearm on campus, two counts, Penal Code 626.9(i) (aka the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995). The code doesn’t say “felony” here but the punishment–“imprisonment … for one, two, or three years”–indicates that these are felony charges, too.

UPDATED because I forgot to include this bit from the Sacramento Bee:

But UC Davis Police Chief Matt Carmichael said in a news conference Saturday night that there is no evidence Snyder, a Ph.D chemist working as a junior researcher in a campus lab, was planning an act of violence or represented a danger to anyone other than himself.

“There is currently no evidence to suggest that Mr. Snyder was planning any event on campus or in the community,” Carmichael said.

UPDATED AGAIN, to add this bit from the California Aggie:

“Experts on the scene decided that some substances were not safe to transport a long distance, so bomb technicians found a safe space, off of Orchard Park, where they could destroy the substances safely,” Carmichael said.

Assuming that means Orchard Park Drive, then the bomb techs definitely didn’t move the explosives very far. The Russell Park apartment complex is basically on Orchard Park Drive.

AND ANOTHER UPDATE: Snyder was arraigned on Jan. 24.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. Poor guy. Not hurting anyone and enjoys chemistry enough to do it on his own time, while exercising a human right affirmed by the constitution. Where does that get him? Jail. Such a sad story.

  2. @klqwerhj sdsdllii – Where exactly in the constitution does it say that people have the right to house and handle explosives anywhere, never mind in an apartment building?

  3. I think the constituional right klqwerhj sdsdllii refers to is the posession of firearms (2nd Amendment). California Penal Code 626.9(i) says he can’t have them on campus unless he has permission of school authorities.

  4. But the firearms charges weren’t the only ones. And California Penal Code 626.9(i) doesn’t prohibit Snyder from owning a firearm, just from having one on university property. If he’d lived off campus and kept the firearms there, no problem.

  5. … aah good old US – everybody has a gun, but synthesizing a little hmtd – is a big no-no!

    I must say, that here in europe, nearly everybody that is doing chemistry have had done explosives at some point. And sometimes quite impressive quantities of them. Just to amuse themselves/friends. No terrorists, nobody went into jail – what a surprise…

  6. @chloralhydrate Gone are the days of the home grown chemist experimenting in a basement or shed in the good old US. Sad commentary when you consider most of the innovations of the late 19th and early 20th century were started in these settings. It was a simpler time and now the world is too PC or misinformed to handle this situation w/o labeling the person or persons involved as suspect/crazy/terrorist. Not that I’m complaining too much, this situation wasn’t ideal especially in an college apartment complex. Keep it in a lab!