BELLINGHAM - A pipe bomb explosion - not a gunshot - killed a Bellingham man who sparked a daylong standoff with police on Sunset Drive, authorities announced Friday, June 13.
Oleg P. Panchenko, 37, set off a pipe bomb around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in his second-floor apartment at 1716 E. Sunset Drive. The blast injured his right wrist and right thigh, but he could have survived with timely treatment, said Dr. Gary Goldfogel, the county medical examiner.
Panchenko died much later, in the afternoon.
Police suspected it was a bullet that had passed through a wall into a woman's apartment next door. So for the next seven hours, a SWAT team surrounded the home believing Panchenko had barricaded himself in his room, armed with a gun.
"I don't know if I'd call it a mistake," said Bellingham Police Sgt. Mike Scanlon. "Typically that loud of an explosion, followed by a projectile through the wall, would come from a firearm. So that was the working theory at the time."
Officers set off tear gas and pepper spray, but Panchenko would not leave. After four hours of fruitless efforts to get a response, the SWAT team and a police dog rushed into the home. They found Panchenko alive in a closet. He screamed as the dog bit him, but still he would not come out. SWAT members didn't know if Panchenko had a gun, so they retreated.
Bomb squad robots with mounted cameras explored the room. Over a megaphone police told Panchenko they knew he was inside, and he needed to come out so they could help him. SWAT moved in for a final time around 4 p.m. They found Panchenko dead in the same closet.
Minutes later police told media they believed he'd shot himself. But the autopsy found no evidence of a bullet wound, and Panchenko had no firearms in his home. Other unfinished explosives were recovered, however.
No suicide note was found in the apartment. The explosion was presumed to be an accident.
Detectives have not determined if Panchenko had any connection to a pipe bomb found later the same afternoon in the parking lot of Child Protective Services. Scanlon emphasized that both cases remain under investigation.
Panchenko served a three-year prison sentence for molesting a girl younger than 16 over the course of many years. Before confessing to that crime in 2004, he told police he'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and he "had blackouts sometimes."