I-40 shutdown due to suspicious device

Suspicious package along I-40 in Durham

June 30, 2010 8:30:22 PM PDT
Durham authorities shut down Interstate 40 in both directions in the area of Fayetteville Road Wednesday, while they investigated a suspicious package on the highway. Around 4 p.m., a motorist called police about a suspicious object along the shoulder of I-40 at exit 276 near Durham's Southpoint Mall.

The caller, a former serviceman who served in Iraq, told authorities he believed the object was a possible bomb.

By 4:15 p.m. the westbound lanes had been diverted and by 4:30 p.m. the eastbound lanes were closed.

Several businesses along Fayetteville Road -- including Pier One, Johnny Carino's, Nordstrom Rack and Duke Health Center on Herndon Road -- were evacuated.

"That was the right thing to do based on physical description of what it looked like," said Capt. D.C. Allen of the Durham Police Department. "Based on what the concern was, we have to take that seriously."

The Durham County bomb squad was also called in to assist authorities, because they are equipped with a robot that is able to go out and exam possible explosive devices.

The small orange robot was able to contain the so-called suspicious device by 7:25 p.m.

DOT cameras were able to show a play-by-play as it sprayed what looked like some kind of liquid on the package. A loud pop was heard and a small flash of light could be seen when it happened. The robot then took the device back to authorities.

Officials later revealed the device turned out to be purple foam tubing taped together and wrapped in what appeared to be wiring -- something they say may have fallen off of a vehicle.

"You can't get that kind of information and not act upon it, then backtrack and say something happened and we didn't do anything," Allen said. "We have to take it seriously to determine that it's not, what we thought it was.

Thirty minutes later, once the area was deemed safe, authorities reopened I-40.

For most commuters it was 3 hours and 45 minutes of inconvenience during rush hour traffic.

"We were coming in from Statesville, east to little Washington, and we sat there for about an hour and moved one mile," commuter Charles Davis said.

"I think it could have been handled differently," Raleigh resident Micah Joyner said. "I don't think Durham needed to be shut down. I mean we've had bomb threats at schools and we do a little fire drill, bomb threat thing and it's over with."

However, authorities say they viewed it differently.

"From a police operation standpoint, we're responsible for the safety and lives of people," Allen said. "We're going to do that. If that means someone misses a flight at least they're here to catch another flight."

Even travelers at the airport were impacted by the gridlock for hours.

"My flight got in about 4:30 p.m. and my ride got halfway here and they called and said, there's just no way," traveler Kim Manturuk said. "It's a lot of hours ... I've read two books now."

And a Canadian girls' soccer team was also waiting and starving.

"We're eating chips, there's not much to eat right now around here," said Rick Haxby, a tourist from Canada. "It's been a very long day. Our flight was late out of Toronto today. Now it looks like it might be another two, three hours."

Right now its unclear how many officers responded to the scene or how much the response and detours will end up costing the state.

Meanwhile during the scare, an officer was shot in the left bicep. Chief Deputy Mike Andrews with Durham Sheriff's Department say they were investigating if a gun malfunctioned.

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