KITCHENER — Emergency crews and a bomb squad were called to downtown Kitchener Friday morning after a suspected would-be bomber died in a vehicle explosion outside the provincial courthouse.
Waterloo Regional Police Superintendent Eugene Fenton said it appears the man found dead in the vehicle is the same person responsible for the explosion.
“Therefore we are searching two residences in the city of Kitchener to determine if there is any further concern for public safety,” he said at a media briefing late Friday afternoon.
Police searched and cleared two residences on Hearthwood Drive and Grand Flats Trail Friday evening.
First reports of the vehicle explosion outside the courthouse at Duke and Frederick streets came in at 10:30 a.m. Police officers, firefighters and paramedics arrived on scene.
Officers in the Explosive Disposal Unit were on scene into the late afternoon and were able to determine a suspected improvised explosive device caused the explosion.
Witnesses told The Record they heard a loud noise like an explosion and then watched as a vehicle parked on the Duke Street side of the courthouse went up in flames.
Aaron McComb was in the area to pick up his paycheque from the construction site near the courthouse Friday when he heard a loud noise.
“So the explosion happened first. Then there was a fire,” McComb said.
“I really don’t know how else to describe it. An explosion, a shotgun, a noise. It sounds like one of those big 30 to 40 yard bins dropping down really hard.”
McComb saw a few people run to the source of the noise and he followed, thinking he could help in some way since he has CPR and First Aid training. He saw a man standing by the vehicle trying to help.
“I asked him if he knew if anybody was in the vehicle. He claimed that, yes, he did think there was someone in the vehicle. As I was approaching I said let’s get him out, let’s get him out.”
McComb said the other man opened the door and they were hit with a wall of heat.
“At that point we saw the guy in the car, buckled up,” McComb said with a halting voice.
“I tried to get myself close enough where I could unbuckle his seatbelt, try to drag him out, do something but once we opened the car door the flames were so intense, they were so hot they were crawling out through the roof of the vehicle,” he said.
“I can’t get the images out of my head.”
McComb said he backed off and called 911.
“I couldn’t just leave like that. I tried to go back,” he said. He soon heard another small explosion then another small explosion after that.
McComb said he also noticed the explosions sent shrapnel into the air. He and a co-worker took pylons from the construction site and blocked the road until emergency crews arrived.
Others watched from afar after they heard the loud bang.
“A couple of my coworkers ran over there and took a look inside and there’s a body inside there. But it was engulfed in flames so they couldn’t do anything,” said Mike Sylvester who works at the construction site across the street.
“They ran over to see if they could help,” he said.
It was a windy day. Thick smoke could be seen billowing from the car in a video shared by a witness. In the video, the car is ablaze and a firefighter runs onto the road and works quickly to unravel a fire hose.
Firefighters with the Kitchener Fire Department were able to extinguish the fire, said Andre Johnson, public information officer with Waterloo Regional Police Service.
By late Friday morning. the car which was on the Duke Street side of the courthouse, was covered with a tarp with its badly damaged front end exposed. The police service’s Explosive Disposal Unit was also at the scene with a robot that searched the vehicle first, followed by officers in protective suits.
Fenton said the bomb squad assessed the scene after hearing from witnesses of the explosion that led police to believe the fire may be suspicious.
As the day wore on, police expanded the scene and moved bystanders further and further away from the scene.
The Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal also arrived to the scene late in the afternoon.
Waterloo Regional Police officers were busy with three different investigations on Friday.
An elderly woman died after her vehicle hit a hydro pole on Union Street East in Waterloo Friday morning. The area was closed for several hours and caused a large power outage in Waterloo.
The other active investigation was into reports of a taxi driver being assaulted by a man with a gun who then fled on foot in the area of King Street East and Jackson Avenue in Kitchener Friday morning.
The Waterloo Region courthouse is currently open for trials and preliminary inquiries.
Anyone with information about the explosion is asked to contact police at 519-570-9777. Anonymous tips can also be left with Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.