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Driver agitated before slamming into Capitol

The Associated Press
Saturday January 20, 2001

SACRAMENTO — The driver of a big rig that rammed the state Capitol told acquaintances and family members he was upset over his new wife and his new job, investigators said Friday. 

Investigators determined that 37-year-old Michael Bowers of Hemet was despondent and did not act as part of a larger group, said California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. “Spike” Helmick. 

Medical examiners used dental records to positively identify Bowers Friday as the driver of the 18-wheeler that plowed into the Capitol’s south porch Tuesday. 

He was not killed instantly in the impact, as investigators initially assumed.  

He died of smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation, and subsequently was incinerated when the truck burst into flames, said Sacramento County Coroner Paul Smith. 

Smith said an autopsy could not determine if Bowers was conscious after the crash, or for how long. 

“At this particular time it is our belief that this gentleman was by himself, he was not any kind of a terrorist or working with other individuals with a desire to do significant damage,” Helmick said. 

“He is an individual who we believe, because of some personal issues, was angered that particular day, ... very distraught that particular day.” 

The mentally ill former prison inmate apparently was upset over his souring relationship with his new wife, Helmick said, and he didn’t like the job he had held for 10 days with Salt  

Lake City-based Dick Simon Trucking Inc. 

Bowers had a valid truck driving license, a valid medical clearance good through February 2001 – and he was cleared to transport hazardous materials, though at the time of the crash he was transporting a load of powdered milk. 

He apparently picked the Capitol as a target of opportunity to vent his anger at his life and at the prison and mental health systems he blamed for keeping him locked up much of his adult life, Helmick said. 

There is no indication he was trying to hurt any particular individual, though he had asked Gov. Gray Davis and a state senator for help in getting released from custody in 1999. 

Helmick said Bowers’ talk of being part of a “New World Order” apparently was delusional. 

However, it led to two fights with his wife, who along with his parents was formally informed Friday of his death. 

Bowers was released Jan. 3 after a month in the Riverside County jail after he pleaded guilty to assaulting his new wife during an argument over odd statements he made about his role with the “New World Order,” said Riverside County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Mark Lohman. 

Bowers married the woman Nov. 27 after her release from prison, Lohman said, but then made her hitchhike back to Riverside County from their honeymoon in the Bishop area in east central California after a previous argument over his comments about the group. 

Medical examiners obtained enough blood to analyze for drugs and alcohol, which Smith said may help explain Bowers’ actions. Results aren’t expected for at least two weeks. 

Authorities said Bowers suffered from a schizo-affective disorder that gave him grandiose and fantastic delusions. His mother, Sharon Bowers, 60, of Perris, told reporters her son was fine when he took his psychotropic medication, but threatening without it. 

Bowers had a criminal record dating to 1986, and had been in and out of state mental health hospitals. 

He picked up the truckload of powdered milk in Modesto Tuesday and was supposed to deliver it to North Dakota. Instead, he drove his 18-wheeler into the Capitol building, severely damaging the south porch but injuring no one but himself. 

On Friday, the California Highway Patrol released tapes of frantic 911 calls to and from dispatchers after Bowers’ truck accelerated across the Capitol lawn, lodged between two ornate concrete-and-steel pillars, and erupted in flames shortly after 9 p.m. as the state Assembly was adjourning for the night. 

The truck’s tires and hundreds of cans of powdered milk in the trailer began exploding, leading witnesses to falsely believe the truck was packed with explosives. 

Grainy surveillance videos show the truck’s approaching headlights before it wedges between the Capitol’s pillars and explodes in a ball of flame that momentarily whites out the camera’s eye.