Call that started bomb scare released

DOT camera view of I-40 shutdown after bomb scare

July 1, 2010 8:54:48 PM PDT
Interstate 40 around mile marker 276 was shut down for almost four hours Wednesday after a motorist called 911 saying he spotted a bomb along the highway.Around 4 p.m. the caller, a former serviceman who served in Iraq, told authorities he believed a suspicious object along the shoulder of I-40 near Durham's Southpoint Mall might be a possible bomb.

    Caller: Ma'am..I'm not sure if it's an emergency..please don't take this the wrong way. I do have PTSD. I haven't been back from Iraq very long, but I just saw something laying on the side of road that looks every bit like what were trained to look for in Iraq..an IED.
    Caller: I'm going back to look..
    Dispatcher: Do you think that's safe? Can I send the bomb squad to do that?
    Caller: No, no, no...don't send the bomb squad. I'm going back to look before you send the bomb squad because I don't want the bomb squad to send an hour out here looking at a toy.

What started with good intentions, lead to a full scale emergency response with 60 emergency personnel from the Highway Patrol to Durham police and 3 hours and 45 minutes of gridlock all because of foam tubing.

The decision to shut down the interstate was not a high-ranking call. A general order obtained by ABC11 Eyewitness News says police officers on the ground are able to make the decision to protect the public. A supervisor signed off on the closure Wednesday evening.

Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield defends the police department, but says a review is in order.

"We could be tempted to second guess them until we know are the circumstances," Bonfield said. "I apologize, I'm sorry, but we need to let it run its course."

City leaders on the receiving end of citizen complaints are also calling for a review.

"We've got to do better than that," said Eugene Brown with the Durham City Council. "We've got to make sure that when we close a major interstate ... that we know what we're doing and that we're doing the right thing for the right reasons."

Many are still asking did they do the right thing. Even the passerby who made the first call had a hard time identifying what the object was.

"I don't have binoculars, I can't look at the thing," he said.

And neither did law enforcement, they primarily relied on news stations' chopper images. Not even scopes on a rifle, they say, would have helped them determine whether it was a bomb or a harmless piece of foam.

Part of the delay in finding out what the object was, was it took more than two hours for the bomb squad to deploy its robot.

The sheriff's office says traffic slowed them down and their attempts to get more information from the man who reported the object were delayed.

Also another caller told 911 they had seen the suspicious object and it looked similar to piping made by a RTP-based company that transports its product via I-40.

The bottom line, according to Durham County's bomb squad is once they're in play; there's a point of no return. They have to follow protocol just in case it is actually an explosive device disguised as a decoy.

At that point, a bomb tech has to physically touch the item to determine it's safe.

Officials also released details Thursday about an officer getting injured during the scare. They say an accidental shooting by a deputy's own weapon left him wounded in the arm --raising the question whether the full scale response was in order.

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