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Published: 9/21/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

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Car explosion that injured 3 described as 'heinous crime' by investigators

Attorney from Sylvania law firm among victims; $10,000 reward offered

BLADE STAFF
The vehicle in which local attorney Erik Chappell and two boys were traveling on Elm Avenue near I-75 in Monroe burns after an explosion Tuesday, in this image from the Monroe Evening News. The vehicle in which local attorney Erik Chappell and two boys were traveling on Elm Avenue near I-75 in Monroe burns after an explosion Tuesday, in this image from the Monroe Evening News.
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MONROE — Federal agents continue to investigate a car bomb that went off in or on a moving car on a Michigan street, seriously injuring a Sylvania attorney and his two young sons.

The powerful explosion Tuesday left nothing but a shell of the Volvo station wagon involved, and sent fire and a thick black column of smoke shooting into the air along tree-lined East Elm Avenue, which passes under I-75 about 25 miles northeast of Toledo.

Attorney Erik Chappell, 42, of LaSalle Township, Mich., and sons Grant, 13, and Cole, 11 were injured in the explosion just after 5:40 p.m.

“We have a bad accident,” the upset father told a 911 dispatcher. “My car blew up with two kids. You’ve been called on it already, but I’m telling you what is going on with my boys. I’ve got two significant leg injuries. ... They are chewed up pretty good.”

VIDEO: Emergency crews respond to fiery scene

911 AUDIO: Erik Chappell calls Monroe County 911 after explosion

Mr. Chappell, a Sylvania-based lawyer, and his sons were taken to an area hospital — authorities were unclear all day where the family was being treated — for injuries.

A neighbor said Mr. Chappell was released from the hospital about 11 a.m. Wednesday, but his sons were “more seriously injured,” said Special Agent Donald Dawkins, of the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms bureau.

The principal at the boys’ school, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School in Monroe, released an online statement Wednesday saying the boys and their father “are all in stable conditions and are in good spirits.”

“All are expected to have a full recovery. I have spoken with Mrs. Chappell twice today, and she has kept me abreast of their improving conditions,” according to Principal Michelle Sontag.

Authorities released very little information about the car bomb.

“We’re still trying to put the device together out of the many, many pieces we’ve found,” Mr. Dawkins said, adding that investigators were out at the scene until 4 a.m. Wednesday and returned to Monroe by 10 a.m.

Mr. Dawkins described it “a heinous crime” and said Mr. Chappell and his sons are “lucky to be alive.”

Authorities said they do not know where the bomb was — whether it was in the car, outside the car, or where or how it could have been attached. They speculated, however, that the device was concealed because the family still got into the car.

It is also unclear when the bomb was planted. Mr. Chappell could have driven extensively with the device if it was attached while he was at his Main Street, Sylvania, office, or even while it was parked at his home in the upscale North Shores community along Lake Erie in LaSalle Township. The drive from the family’s home to the site of the explosion is about 8 miles long.

Erik Chappell of Lyden, Liebenthal & Chappell LTD law firm in Sylvania. Erik Chappell of Lyden, Liebenthal & Chappell LTD law firm in Sylvania.
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There was also no telling how the bomb detonated or how sophisticated the construction might be. “For the person who did it, it went off when they wanted — unfortunately for everyone else,” Mr. Dawkins told The Blade.

The ATF, Mr. Dawkins said, is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons involved. Those with information are asked to call the ATF at 313-202-3400. As of late last night, authorities said they were working a number of leads and had received a lot of calls from the public. He said there were a number of “ideas we’re working on” that could be related to a motive.

When asked whether Mr. Chappell could have been targeted by a client or because of his job as a lawyer, Mr. Dawkins declined to comment. No one was in custody Wednesday.

Authorities have not publicly released the names of the victims. Mr. Dawkins said several different people have interviewed Mr. Chappell, but he wasn’t sure what came out of the interviews.

Wednesday, federal agents spent several hours at Mr. Chappell’s law firm, Lyden, Liebenthal & Chappell LTD. The law firm, which is located on the third floor in an office building at 5470 Main St., near Harroun Park, was open Wednesday. A receptionist said employees would not talk to a reporter and a statement from the law firm was not available.

Mr. Chappell is married with four children — the two sons and two daughters.

Ms. Sontag, principal at the boys’ school, said the family is asking for prayers from the community. “Many of you have also inquired about helping the family. Mrs. Chappell has asked for us to pray for their healing and for their comfort,” she said. “When they return home, we will arrange to help them in whichever capacity is necessary. Perhaps we will deliver cooked meals, arrange tutoring while the boys are recovering at home, and continue to shower them with prayers.”

Mr. Chappell was scheduled to have been in Federal District Court in Detroit Wednesday to represent a hot dog vendor suing the city of Monroe. That case was postponed on Tuesday — before the car explosion.

John Gillooly, the attorney for the city of Monroe, said Mr. Chappell has always struck him as a family man and an excellent lawyer.

“I have known him throughout the past couple years working on this case,” Mr. Gillooly said. “Our kids are close in age and when on occasion when we are in federal court, he talks often about how he loves his kids.”

In that case, a company called Dog Pound sued the city two years ago after a plan to sell hot dogs from a cart was rejected, Mr. Gillooly said.

They have been in court together about 12 times over the past two years, he said.

“He is a remarkable attorney and I hope his toughness will carry over to a very quick recovery. We are all hoping,” Mr. Gillooly said.

Mr. Chappell’s clients locally have included a fireworks distributor a southeast Michigan township tried to shut down and a Perrysburg shopping complex slapped with a lawsuit seeking accessibility for the disabled.

Blackened pavement surrounds a hole where a car exploded on Elm Avenue just east of the I-75 overpass in Monroe. Blackened pavement surrounds a hole where a car exploded on Elm Avenue just east of the I-75 overpass in Monroe.
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In 2008, he represented Springfield Township businessman John Miller III, who was target of a lawsuit filed by LaSalle Township. The township filed against Red Falcon Fireworks seeking a court order to shut down the retailer until Mr. Miller complied with state building and fire codes.

The complaint alleged Red Falcon — located on South Otter Creek Road near heavily traveled I-75 — was selling fireworks out of a building that didn’t meet state regulations. Also at issue was whether the fireworks store, owned by Mr. Miller was selling fireworks considered illegal under Michigan law.

Two years earlier, Mr. Chappell represented the owners of Perrysburg Marketplace in Perrysburg, one of the shopping complexes slapped with a lawsuit by the Findlay, Ohio-based Northwest Ohio Wheelchair Athletes, Inc. The advocacy group filed six lawsuits in August, 2006 against shopping complexes in Toledo, Perrysburg, and Fremont.

In examining court records to defend his client, Mr. Chappell told The Blade in 2006 that he learned a plaintiff’s attorney in the case had filed more than 300 similar complaints against businesses in Florida over the past several years. He said the groups didn’t want to take cases to trial and only aim to reach out-of-court settlements to pay for lawyer and expert witnesses. “This is how they make money,” he said at the time.

Agent Dawkins said investigators were working to put it back together from the many pieces that were collected from the scene.

Those with information about the case are asked to call the ATF at 313-202-3400.

Mr. Chappell works in his firm’s litigation department and is “actively involved in a diverse litigation and trial practice,” according to the firm’s Web site. The “majority of Mr. Chappell’s cases are business disputes, Mr. Chappell also maintains a family law practice and will evaluate all potential cases ... [he] has litigated employment disputes including the defense of numerous wrongful discharge and discrimination claims; unfair competition claims, the Web site also states.

Mr. Chappell is a graduate of University of Toledo’s law school and received an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan.

He lived in Ottawa Hills from 2001 until 2008, when he and his family moved to their current home in Michigan.

Staff writers Ignazio Messina, Nolan Rosenkrans, and Jim Sielicki contributed to this report.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.


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