Mislaid briefcase draws bomb squad

Area sealed off, case was harmless

Area sealed off, case was harmless

June 11, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

A state bomb squad on Tuesday afternoon destroyed a briefcase that was left in front of the Washington County Board of License Commissioners office, but it turned out it contained harmless documents, police said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said a woman thought she was leaving her briefcase at her lawyer's office, but mistakenly left it in front of a door at the county liquor board office at 148 W. Washington St.

After the bomb squad was through and the briefcase's contents were examined at police headquarters, the woman was "given back a pile of wet, torn up paper items and a destroyed briefcase," said Jeff Kercheval, director of the Hagerstown Police crime lab.


The situation began when a secretary at the liquor board arrived for work Tuesday morning and found a black briefcase that appeared to be new in the vestibule at the office's ground floor entrance, police said.

"She came here. She saw the keys in it, and she called it in," liquor board inspector Richard Koontz said Tuesday afternoon.

Then "she left. I don't blame her. ... Better being safe than sorry."

Hagerstown Police arrived shortly after 10 a.m. and sealed off West Washington Street near the building, closed down the parking lot behind the liquor board's office and cleared out neighboring buildings.

Trying to figure out what was in the bag, police tried to contact anyone who might have left their belongings in front of the office, including a lawyer who was to attend a hearing there, Smith said.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal's bomb squad brought a robot that was used to move the briefcase from the vestibule into a small courtyard between the building housing the liquor board and a neighboring building.

At about 12:20 p.m., a bomb expert walked to the briefcase and placed next to it a device designed to render a bomb harmless.

The devices are used to destroy packages while disrupting electric wiring that could ignite a real bomb, said Deputy Jim Woods, an explosives expert with the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

After getting away from the briefcase and their own device, fire marshals activated their device, shooting a jet of water at the briefcase.

Inside the briefcase, fire inspectors and police found notepads, drawings, photos and documents, but they wanted to make sure there were no threatening notes in the case, Smith said, so it was bagged and taken back to police headquarters.

"Obviously the contents weren't too frightening," Smith said. "Nine hundred ninety-nine out of a thousand of these things are nothing."

Groups of workers had gathered to watch the police activities, but it didn't take too much convincing for them to move toward the far end of the parking lot.

Brian Kurtyka, a lawyer who was returning to his office after things had settled said he didn't mind the inconvenience.

"I appreciate the excess caution that they used because of the businesses and other things around here. Somebody might have a beef. You never know," Kurtyka said.

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