Bomb Voyage

Cops say wannabe doctor faces charges in UCI bomb hoax

The official version is ridiculous. Not to say it isn't true; that could be for a jury to decide. No, it's just that the official, district attorney's version of the events and motives that led to the arrest of Amit Kumar Sinha on June 4 at UC Irvine really just sounds absurd—Risky Business meets Ferris Bueller meets that episode of the Brady Bunch where Greg has two dates for the same dance, except that in this case, instead of a dance it's a medical school graduation, and instead of dates, it's a bomb threat and a trash fire, not to mention, most likely, some really pissed-off parents.

The official version goes like this: at 4:16 p.m. on June 4, a young man calls the UC Irvine police department and tells dispatcher Tori Hornish that he's planted a bomb and "other explosives" on campus. He doesn't really give a reason for doing this, but as proof of his resolve he says he's set a fire in a trash can and, indeed, minutes earlier, a trash can fire was reported at UCI's Langson Library.

It's a Saturday afternoon and not a lot is happening on campus except for the school of medicine's commencement ceremony at Aldrich Park, an area located at the very center of the university. Sinha, 28, is at the graduation ceremony, law enforcement officials say, dressed in a cap and gown, which is exactly how any parent would expect their son to be dressed on this, the day of his graduation from UCI's medical school.

Thing of it is, no one in the medical school actually knows or has ever seen Sinha. UCI's is the smallest of the University of California's medical schools. The graduating class has only 94 students, so people tend to know each other. They don't know Sinha. When campus police arrive shortly before the commencement is to begin at 5 p.m., they ask students if they've seen anyone suspicious; a few people point to Sinha.

He is detained and questioned by campus police, who turn him over to Irvine police, who arrest him. Eventually he is charged by the district attorney's office with one count of arson and one count of making a false bomb threat; there was no bomb. There was only this: Sinha, who had told his parents that he had been accepted and attending UCI's medical school, had never enrolled—had never even applied to UCI.

Unaware of this, his parents had been sending him checks; sizable ones, you guess, when you consider the medical school costs nearly $23,000 a year alone and, when living expenses are added, usually requires somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $60,000 a year. If a person were to spend four years in school, even if they weren't actually attending the school, well, it adds up.

Officials either don't know or aren't saying what Sinha was doing all those years with all that money—one's mind, raised on a lifetime of similar Hollywood hijinks, fancies fast cars, late nights and a cameo by Scott Baio—but it does intimate that as the time came for his "class" to graduate, Sinha became increasingly desperate.

"His motive was to stop the graduation proceedings," said Deputy District Attorney Steve Mitchell. "He told his parents that he was graduating and, in fact, he was never even enrolled."

Released on $50,000 bail, Sinha, who pleaded not guilty to both counts, faces a maximum of three years and eight months in prison. Sinha, who has a pretrial hearing Aug. 17 at Newport Beach Harbor Court, declined an invitation to give his version of what happened June 4, though his lawyer, Robert Van Hoy, said he wanted us to know that "Mr. Sinha is a very fine young man from a good family. The family is quite supportive, and Mr. Sinha has pleaded not guilty to the charges. We'll let the system work now."

As for the commencement ceremony, it went off without a hitch; all 94 received their diplomas after listening to featured speaker Jerome Kassirer, M.D., distinguished professor from Tufts University School of Medicine, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicineand author of a recent book taking the medical profession to task for its cozy relationship with big business. The book is called On the Take.

rscottmoxley@ocweekly.com

 
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