The wife of Sen. Harry Reid and others are striking back at unsubstantiated talk radio claims that seem to downplay or dismiss the story of a 1981 attempt to blow up the Reid family car.
Landra Reid said Tuesday that a failed attempt to rig the Reids' car to explode was, "very, very scary," adding, "I just can't imagine anyone would call it into question or try and change history."
Her account of the incident is supported by numerous newspaper stories, statements by law enforcement officials and her own eyes -- she saw the wiring that connected the engine compartment to the gasoline tank.
"I think pretending that this didn't happen to us is one thing, but joking about it is something else," she said. "It wasn't funny then and I don't think it is funny now."
She was referring to jokes about the incident and doubts raised about the veracity of the story during the Heidi Harris Show on KDWN-AM, 720, a Las Vegas radio station.
On Oct. 21, Harris joked about the incident with Sue Lowden, a former television journalist and a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Reid, a Democrat and the Senate majority leader.
The two women discussed other bombings and Harris remarked that perhaps Reid was trying to claim another bombing was directed at him, which prompted laughter from Lowden.
Reid's campaign responded with a Web ad on YouTube.com featuring newspaper headlines about the incident and recordings from the Harris show.
The recording had Harris stating, "Everybody says that maybe there was a rumor but nobody has been able to verify that actually happened," and Lowden saying, "I've never heard of that either."
On Tuesday Harris again broached the subject, this time with Gov. Jim Gibbons and retired Las Vegas police detective Phil Ramos.
In the Ramos interview Harris said, "I've been here all my life, but I'm not a detective like you were. Know anything about that bomb in Harry Reid's family station wagon?"
Ramos said, "There was an incident. It wasn't a bomb per se." He goes on to say that the device found couldn't be detonated. "There was a wire attached to the battery in one of the cars that the family drove. But that's all it was."
Later in the program Ramos said, "Back then, the theory was that it was somebody trying to hook up a stereo to the car, just direct wire."
Las Vegas police spokesman Bill Cassell confirmed the existence of a device "hooked from the engine to the fuel tank."
The device "was designed to make the car explode," he said.
When asked about the theory that the wiring was a stereo hookup, Cassell said, "it is not included in the report."
News stories from 1981 also contradict claims law enforcement took the incident lightly.
In a Review-Journal story, Lt. Don Simon of the Metropolitan Police Department's Intelligence Bureau stated that someone removed a spark plug in Reid's engine and extended a wire to the gas tank in an attempt to make the car blow up when started.
A story in the Las Vegas Sun stated, "Officers described the device in Reid's car as, 'a crude bomb trigger, but one that could work if a spark had reached the gas tank.' "
A story in the Nevada State Journal from Reno began, "An apparent murder attempt was uncovered when former Gaming Commission Chairman Harry Reid discovered his car was rigged to explode, police said Thursday."
When asked whether she was aware of news accounts of the incident, Harris said, "All I'm doing is raising questions. I'm not an investigative reporter. I don't have time to spend hours of my life digging up old police reports."
Ramos declined to elaborate when contacted for more information about his memory of the incident and said, "I don't want to get into it. I was a rookie patrolman back then. I said what I had to say about it."
Others who recall the era when Reid and the gaming commission clashed with mobsters over control of Las Vegas casinos said bombings and other forms of terrorism were real and taken seriously, especially by the targets.
Longtime Las Vegas broadcast journalist Bob Stoldal said he remembers the Reid incident, as well attacks on journalist Ned Day, whose car was torched in 1986, and casino operator Lefty Rosenthal, whose car was bombed in 1982. Rosenthal's story was glorified in the 1995 movie "Casino."
"It was a time that everybody took things like that seriously," said Stoldal, now executive vice president of news at KVBC-TV, Channel 3. "To laugh about it, I think is just inappropriate."
Although no one was ever implicated in the attempt on Reid's car, Stoldal said it was widely known that as gaming commissioner Reid clashed with unsavory characters, including Rosenthal.
"I remember seeing the battle between Harry Reid and Rosenthal at the gaming commission meeting. That was a very serious matter. Threats were flying at that time," he said.
Former Gov. Bob Miller, who was district attorney in Clark County in 1981, said it was reasonable to believe threats against Reid were credible.
"There's no indication it was some kids fooling around. It was taken seriously," Miller said. "To characterize it otherwise is just reprehensible, I think."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.