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Originally published Friday, March 4, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Dye-pack explosion injures man at bank

A small popping noise, followed by intense burning and the release of a powerful, acrid gas had Rajiv Diwan convinced he'd been shot. Gasping for breath, he...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A small popping noise, followed by intense burning and the release of a powerful, acrid gas had Rajiv Diwan convinced he'd been shot. Gasping for breath, he worried he also was having a heart attack.

"Now I can laugh about it, but you know, I really thought I was definitely dying. I really thought that was it," said Diwan, who was accidentally given a dye pack along with his cash at a Lakewood, Pierce County, bank Wednesday. After the dye pack exploded in his pants, he had to convince police he hadn't just robbed the Bank of America branch where he's done business for nearly a decade.

Diwan, 43, of Renton, owns two gas stations in Lakewood and said yesterday that most everyone who works at the bank branch at 9515 Bridgeport Way S.W. knows him.

Sometime after noon Wednesday, Diwan went to the branch to cash a check. As usual, he said, he joked with the tellers during the transaction. He stuffed the bills he was given into the left pocket of his jeans and left.

Outside, "I heard a little pop," Diwan said. "I took maybe two or three steps, and then there was this intense burning. ... There was literally smoke coming out of my pants."

He stuffed a hand into his jeans and, seeing his red-tinged fingertips, Diwan said he figured he'd been shot. "Then all of a sudden there was this intense smell, like sulfur or tear gas," he said.

"So now my pants are burning, I can't breathe and I think, 'Now I'm having a heart attack.'

"I'm jumping around like a frog, with one hand down my pants, trying to pull the wad of money from my skin because it's burning, and with the other hand, I'm trying to unbuckle my belt," Diwan said.

He stumbled to his car, took his pants off and called 911. When he reported that his pants were on fire, he said the 911 dispatcher asked if he was on drugs. When he explained he thought a dye pack may have exploded, she then asked if he had robbed a bank, Diwan said.

He said a responding officer asked him the same question, but the whole thing was cleared up after Diwan gave the officer his driver's license and a business card, and the officer was able to confirm he was a bank customer.

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So overpowering was the odor from the dye pack, Diwan said, that the medics unloaded him from their ambulance and stripped his clothes off before taking him to a Lakewood hospital, where he was given a special shower to wash the hazardous residue from his skin and treated for second-degree burns.

"Obviously, it was a mistake," Diwan said, adding the bank has since replaced the stained bills. He said he wishes someone from the bank would call, just to see how he's doing and to offer "some sort of explanation."

"I want to go back, but if I don't hear from them ... I'm definitely taking my business elsewhere," Diwan said.

Heidi Brown, the assistant manager at the bank branch, said yesterday she was not allowed to comment and referred questions to a corporate spokeswoman in San Francisco.

The spokeswoman couldn't be reached yesterday afternoon.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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