A San Diego woman pranked by her brother while driving on Interstate 15 spoke exclusively to NBC 7 San Diego Friday about the bomb hoax that caused a massive, lengthy traffic jam on Thanksgiving.
Deanna “Dede” Diaz, 27, was on the I-15, on her way to visit family in Escondido Thursday when she received a couple of extremely frightening phone calls from a number she did not recognize.
After calling twice, the person on the other end – a deep, serious, unfamiliar voice that Deanna said she did not recognize – left a chilling voice message.
The voicemail, which Deanna played back for NBC 7, said there was a bomb inside her car that would soon detonate. The caller had a thick accent.
“I know you drive a white car. I put a bomb in your car and you’re going to explode,” said the voice.
“At that moment, I just panicked. I didn’t even want to stop my car, to be honest. I literally wanted to jump out of my car,” said Deanna. “[I wondered] ‘What if I stop the car and put it in park and something detonates?’ I was in panic mode. I was freaking out, [wondering] why someone would do this to me.”
“I was just scared. What if some guy is watching us? What if he shoots us in the car? What if? Every worse scenario you could think of, I went through,” said Deanna. “I’m going to get killed and we’re going to all die. I was just in complete panic.”
Immediately, Deanna pulled over to the center divide on northbound I-15, near Miramar Way. She and a friend riding in her car jumped out and ran away from the vehicle. Deanna then used her cell phone to call 911.
From there, a large law enforcement response ensued.
At around 2:45 p.m., authorities from multiple agencies, including the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Bomb Squad responded to the scene.
California Highway Patrol officials shut down the I-15 in both directions.
Thanksgiving traffic came to a bumper-to-bumper halt on the busy freeway and stayed that way for hours as officials and bomb squad dogs inspected Deanna’s vehicle.
Deanna said officials took her to safety at a nearby Carl’s Jr. restaurant. There, she received yet another threatening phone call, which an officer told her to answer on speaker phone.
This time, the mystery caller said he knew she was going to Escondido. But, how, Deanna thought, did he know that?
Deanna said she panicked again. She felt a tingling in her left arm and thought she may have been having a heart attack.
“It just tingled – it was numb. [I thought] I’m going to pass out. I was just grabbing myself,” she explained.
Soon, officials determined the caller had been Deanna's older brother – Victor Diaz, 28 – playing a prank on his unsuspecting sister.
Victor didn’t know how far the bomb hoax had escalated, Deanna said, and only found out about the traffic jam and police response when he arrived in Escondido, where their family was meeting for Thanksgiving.
CHP officials told Victor to come down to the scene for questioning. He was arrested for making a false bomb threat and booked into San Diego Central Jail on felony charges.
Though officials confirmed Victor was remorseful over the prank gone-too-far, officials said sorry simply wouldn’t cut it.
“He was very apologetic and everything. He just didn’t think it would go this far,” said Deanna. “I told him he could’ve called or texted me, ‘Hey, I’m just joking,’ after the first call. But, after three calls threatening me, I took it pretty seriously,” said Deanna.
By 6:15 p.m., all lanes had reopened in both directions on the I-15, and traffic picked up again.
On Friday, Deanna’s older brother remained in jail. He’s scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 4.
“I feel bad. I’m a little upset with myself. He’s in jail, and they’re not misdemeanor crimes, they’re felonies he’s looking at. He has a baby on the way next month. I feel bad he’s in jail, but had I known, none of this would’ve happened,” she lamented.
Deanna said she and her family members often play practical jokes and pranks on one another, but nothing ever to this extreme.
Their mother, Lucia Diaz, said she's deeply saddened by the incident. She said Deanna played the bomb hoax voicemail for her too, and even Lucia didn't recognize Victor's voice.
"The voice wasn't the same, like him," Lucia said regarding her son.
“I feel sorry for both of them. [Deanna] was sick, Victor is in jail,” said Lucia. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”
Lucia said she spoke to her son and he said he regrets his actions.
“He said, ‘Sorry, Mom, but I didn’t think this was going to end up in a big problem.’ He’s sorry. I hope he stops playing jokes on other people too because of what happened,” said Lucia. "I feel very sad. It was a sad day for all of us -- for everyone."
Deanna said she feels awful about the entire incident. She also said she’s sorry to all of the drivers who were stranded along the I-15 on Thanksgiving.
“I felt horrible – all these people trying to get to their families. I’m pretty sure they missed their flights, missed something – some events with their families – for a hoax like this,” she added. “I apologize. If I could take it back, I would. Had I known it was him, none of this would’ve happened. I apologize for them missing time with their families. It’s Thanksgiving; I wanted to be with my family too.”
More NBC 7 San Diego Stories:
- Brother-Sister Bomb Hoax Halts I-15 Traffic
- SWAT Standoff Ends in University City
- Man Stabbed During Black Friday Event in Carlsbad