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TV Crew Under Fire for Cannonball Attack on California Suburb


December 8, 2011
Demian Bulwa and Henry K. Lee / San Francisco Chronicle

One of the zany experiments staged by the "Mythbusters" television show nearly turned into a suburban tragedy when a cannonball fired at a private shooting range missed its target, tore through a cinder-block wall, skipped off a hillside, flew some 700 yards east, bounced off a sidewalk, ripped through the front door of a house, raced up the stairs, blasted through a bedroom wall, crossed a six-lane road, bounced off a nearby roof and slammed into a parked beige Toyota Sienna minivan.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/07/BA1D1M99V5.DTL

'Mythbusters' Cannonball Hits Dublin Home, Minivan
Demian Bulwa and Henry K. Lee / San Francisco Chronicle

DUBLIN (December 7, 2011) -- DUBLIN -- One of the zany experiments staged by the "Mythbusters" television show nearly turned into a suburban tragedy Tuesday afternoon in Dublin when the crew fired a homemade cannon toward huge containers of water at the Alameda County Sheriff's Department bomb disposal range.

The cantaloupe-sized cannonball missed the water, tore through a cinder-block wall, skipped off a hillside and flew some 700 yards east, right into the Tassajara Creek neighborhood, where children were returning home from school at 4:15 p.m., authorities said.

There, the 6-inch projectile bounced in front of a home on quiet Cassata Place, ripped through the front door, raced up the stairs and blasted through a bedroom, where a man, woman and child slept through it all - only awakening because of plaster dust.

The ball wasn't done bouncing.

It exited the house, leaving a perfectly round hole in the stucco, crossed six-lane Tassajara Road, took out several tiles from the roof of a home on Bellevue Circle and finally slammed into the Gill family's beige Toyota Sienna minivan in a driveway on Springvale Drive.

That's where Jasbir Gill, 42, who had pulled up 10 minutes earlier with his 13-year-old son, Manvir, found the ball on the floorboards, with glass everywhere and an obliterated dashboard.

"It's shocking - anything could have happened," Gill said after the van had been taken away as evidence, along with the cannonball.

"Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy," said Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department. "You wouldn't think it was possible."

He said the television crew was incredibly unlucky that the cannonball flew through Dublin, but "tremendously lucky that it didn't seriously injure or kill somebody."

Nelson said "Mythbusters," a show on the Discovery Channel, had used the bomb disposal range without incident while shooting portions of more than 50 episodes over the past seven or eight years. The show does not pay a set fee but has donated to the department and given it exposure.

One of the terms of the deal, Nelson said, was that the show take out insurance in case of a mishap.

The show is based in San Francisco. Hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman use science experiments to confirm or debunk rumors or myths. Reached Tuesday evening, Savage said, "I can't talk right now," before hanging up.

This isn't the first time projectiles in the area have hit homes. In 2007, a stray .223-caliber bullet, apparently fired during a training exercise at Camp Parks Army base in Dublin, shattered the bedroom window of a San Ramon home.



'MythBusters' Hosts: Sorry about that Cannonball
Demian Bulwa / San Francisco Chronicle

DUBLIN (December 7, 2011) -- The special-effects gurus who host the television show "MythBusters" were cast Wednesday in an ignominious role: visiting a home on a quiet street in Dublin and apologizing to a family for firing a 30-pound cannonball through their front door a day earlier.

"Come in," said Hitha Shetty, 39, ushering show hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage across a floor still speckled with paint and plaster.

Behind Shetty was damage more likely to be found on a pirate ship than a two-story tract home. A round hole scarred an interior wall and, beyond that, another hole showed where the cannonball had exited the upstairs master bedroom as Shetty's wife, Seema, napped with the couple's 2-year-old son.

After assuring Shetty, his two children, his wife and her parents that they would never again blast a home with heavy ordnance, Hyneman and Savage said the incident was the worst thing that had happened during thousands of experiments over eight years on the Discovery Channel show.

They also promised they wouldn't air the footage they had filmed of the near-catastrophic cannon shot.

"It's a wake-up call," said Savage, 44, who like his 56-year-old partner lives in San Francisco. "Honestly, the feeling of embarrassment is not something we're indulging in right now. We feel for the families and the people affected by this."

He added, "Some people watch our show and think that we're reckless. Others watch our show and they see we take safety seriously. The fact is, the latter is the case."

Savage and Hyneman were not present at the Alameda County bomb ordnance range - which the show has used for years and is nearly 1,000 yards west of the Shetty home - when the cannon fired at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday.

They said the three other stars of the show - Tory Belleci, Kari Byron and Grant Imahara - had been "calibrating" a homemade cannon, firing a ball made of either steel or cast iron into water barrels and a brick wall to make sure it had the same power as a historical cannon.
Stone cannonballs

The ultimate goal, they said, was to go to a more remote location and use the cannon to fire stone cannonballs into a replica castle wall.

"The myth was whether or not a stone cannonball could actually breach a castle's walls," Savage said.

However, Hyneman said, the crew suffered "muzzle lift," and the cannonball arced across Dublin. It bounced on the Shettys' driveway on Cassata Place before racing through their home and flying across six-lane Tassajara Road.

It then bounced off the roof of a second home before smashing into another resident's Toyota Sienna minivan, coming to rest on the floorboards.

"When you start to look into the data of what cannons can actually do, it's actually quite shocking," Savage said. "They're very efficient projectile-hurling weapons. It's a lot of power, and the power got away from us."

The shot took the Alameda County Sheriff's Department by surprise as well. The agency, which runs the ordnance range, halted all non-emergency operations there pending a review of safety policies, said department spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson.

Before receiving his visitors, Hitha Shetty said the novelty of the situation didn't soothe his anger. He said residents should have known a dangerous experiment was being staged. He also hinted at firing back with a lawsuit.

"The kids are usually playing there," he said of the path of the cannonball. "I want to make sure this doesn't happen again. And, of course, they need to pay for this. Not just the physical damage, but everything else."
Talk of the town

As he spoke, his street filled with neighbors who wanted to see the dent in the pavement where the ball bounced and the hole in the front door. Some kids snapped photos and pocketed shards of concrete as souvenirs.

"You get to see this probably only once in your lifetime," said Sameer Paila, 9, after he took video with his dad's iPhone.

The show hosts signed autographs in the street but resisted humor. After Savage posed for a picture with two neighborhood girls, he said, "You'll forgive us for not smiling. It's not smiling time."

Chronicle staff writer Henry K. Lee contributed to this report. E-mail the writers at dbulwa@sfchronicle.com and hlee@sfchronicle.com.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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