Durham police chief defending I-40 closure

DURHAM The closure was decided following a phone call. It set an emergency response into motion and hours of gridlock on I-40.

"Don't panic, I'm going back to look," a caller told a 911 operator Wednesday afternoon. "It looks like three cylinder objects taped together, laying on the side of the road. The exact placement for what we look for in Iraq."

On Friday, the object was in Police Chief Jose Lopez's office, bound by tape with a red elastic cord attached. It turned out to not be a bomb, but Lopez says he still wants to thank the concerned caller.

"I want to say to the gentleman who called, thank you," he said. "Thank you for the call, because it's the citizen involvement that keeps others safe."

Safety is what his officers were thinking of, Lopez says, when they made the call to shut down traffic.

The chief was stuck in the traffic after returning home from a family emergency out of state and did not make it to the scene.

"Even if I wanted to, physically I couldn't by the time I was on the road getting out of the traffic jam, it was over," he said.

Lopez says he was in communication with his staff the entire time.

"When I leave Durham, I leave extremely competent individuals behind who are trained to handle any situation I would have to handle," he said.

But still many residents have voiced concern over how long it took authorities to figure out that the object was harmless.

"What if it had been a little doll, you should see some of the devices in Israel," Lopez said.

Terrorist defense training in Israel, Lopez says, has taught him unassuming objects can have deadly consequences. It's a risk he's glad his officers didn't take.

"I support my officers and what they did," he said. "Right now, I'm waiting to see what the review turns out. As always, we hope to do things better."

Lopez says he'll be coordinating with the other agencies involved to discuss what worked and what didn't.

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