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Amtrak train evacuated after bomb threat

August 30, 1997

By KAREN MASTERSON

Staff Writer

HANCOCK - More than 220 people were evacuated from an Amtrak passenger train Friday night after the train chief received a bomb threat from a passenger on board, officials said.

M. Wilder, chief on board, said the passenger threatened to blow up the train, which originated in Washington, D.C., and was headed as far west as Chicago.

David Wiley Graham, 48, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is charged with making a false bomb threat, misconduct of a train passenger and public intoxication, said West Virginia State Police Senior Trooper A. T. Peer.

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Graham denied making the threat, Peer said, but several witnesses said he spoke of killing other passengers and himself. One witness told investigators Graham said he had a bomb on the train, Peer said.

A specially trained bomb-sniffing dog from the Washington County Sheriff's Department searched the train, but no explosives were found, Peer said.

Witnesses told police they saw Graham drinking a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey and beer, Peer said.

State police were called to the stopped train at 5:50 p.m.

Passengers were taken to Hancock Middle Senior High School, where they lounged in the auditorium, walked the quarter-mile into town and hung around in the warm air along the outside sidewalks.

Steve Barnhart, a Hancock Rescue Squad volunteer, said the Morgan County Board of Education sent buses to take passengers from the Hancock train station to the school.

Once empty, the train was moved two miles west to get it away from the populated area, Barnhart said.

"For those of you who are not happy with what I did, I apologize, but I did what I had to do," Wilder said on stage at the school auditorium.

"Your luggage and baggage are well protected," he added, to a round of applause.

"I'd rather be on the train going home, but it's just something that can't be helped," said Betty Blair, 67, who was traveling home from Washington, D.C., to Fort Worth, Texas.

"I haven't hardly seen anybody upset. The Amtrak people have been so nice," she added.

Hancock officials, from Town Council Member Greg Yost to Town Manager Louis Close, worked at making their unexpected visitors as comfortable as possible.

Food was sent from Hagerstown via a Washington County Fire and Rescue unit.

"That's a ham and cheese pocket," said volunteer J.C. Horn as he handed out soda and sandwiches from the rescue until.

Horn said they gave out almost 200 sodas and sandwiches - from vegetable hot dogs to cheese burgers - in an hour and 15 minutes.

"If you have to use the phone, please limit calls to three minutes," Barnhart announced in the auditorium. With only one pay phone, a line formed as long as the five school buses that transported them.

Meanwhile, Amtrak train attendants walked up and down the aisles, answering questions their displaced passengers had from their auditorium seats.

"It's a shame it happened, but I'll keep working," said Amtrak employee Mike Ellsworth.

Sandy Stempel, a teacher at Poolesville High School, caught the train in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., on her way to Indiana for a family reunion. She had a broken ankle and needed special attention.

"I think Amtrak is doing a wonderful job. They're very careful to help me and others with disabilities," she said.

One British passenger agreed that Amtrak employees were great.

"We have the IRA bombings, but this is the first time I've been evacuated from a train," said Craig Fletcher, 22, adding that the event will make one his most interesting journal entries in his two weeks in the United States.

The yellow school buses pulled out of Hancock's school at 9:18 p.m. headed back for the train and their final destination.

No injuries were reported.

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