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Man pleads not guilty to I-5 pipe bomb charges

The incident caused authorities to shut down the freeway for more than two hours Friday during the afternoon commute.
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The incident caused authorities to shut down the freeway for more than two hours Friday during the afternoon commute.Michael Peter Buffalo, 46, sat silently in the Vista courthouse Tuesday afternoon during his short arraignment on charges linking him to the freeway bombs as well as a bomb found days earlier at an Oceanside home in the city's downtown area.

Oceanside police said they learned of the freeway bombs when they questioned Buffalo about a tip that he planned blow up the Vista courthouse -- the same courthouse where Buffalo has been sentenced to prison six times since 1987.

In court Tuesday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Adrienne Orfield granted the prosecution's request to set Buffalo's bail at $5 million -- an amount higher than has been set for some accused murderers in the area.

Deputy District Attorney Natalie Villaflor said outside of court that she asked for the high amount because Buffalo "is a danger to the community."

"He had a plan and it looks like he had the means to carry it out," Villaflor said. "He had a plan to do something with those bombs."

She declined to say what Buffalo's alleged plan may have been.

On Friday, Oceanside police said Buffalo told them about the two bombs he had ditched in a backpack along I-5 just south of La Jolla Village Drive where his van broke down three days prior.

Once they found the bag with the homemade explosives, the San Diego Police Department bomb squad shut down the freeway and blew up the bag three times.

Authorities closed down the major north-south artery for more than two hours on a busy afternoon, leading to massive traffic backups.

Villaflor said police have also linked Buffalo with a bomb found in a garage two days earlier on the 500 block of N. Ditmar Road.

A search of Buffaloís residence in the 3400 block of Dunes Place turned up no other explosives, police said.

The thin, balding Buffalo appeared in court in a wheelchair. Villaflor said she did not know why.

Buffalo has a number of felony convictions on his record, although none of them are violent felonies. His previous convictions include possession of drugs, stolen property and evading police.

Buffalo has crossed through state prison turnstiles six times, but none of those crimes were serious enough to leave strikes on his record.

Villaflor said Buffalo may not be a candidate for the Three Strikes law, which is an automatic sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

If Buffalo is convicted of the bomb charges, he faces up to 12 years in prison. And should he get out of prison and commit more crime, the conviction in the bomb case would count as a strike on his record.

In and out of prison for the last two decades, his longest stretch outside of California prison walls came between 1996 and 2003. All of his cases in San Diego County were handled at the courthouse in Vista.

Four years ago, he was sent to prison to serve a three-year sentence on charges including possession of drugs, receiving stolen property, evading police and driving a stolen car and weapons possession.

Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 631-6624 or