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Terrorist scare turns up empty

July 14, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Police shut down traffic in both directions on Interstate 81 around Halfway for more than an hour Tuesday afternoon to investigate a tip that a Middle Eastern truck driver made a bomb threat.

"There were allegations that were basically nonexistent," Maryland State Police Capt. Rob Turano said.

Turano said that a truck driver reported to Pennsylvania State Police south of Carlisle, Pa., that he had an argument over the citizens band radio with a man who sounded like he was of Middle Eastern descent.

"During that time, an allegation was made that (the man) was going to blow up a location," Turano said.

Based on information from the complainant and Pennsylvania State Police, Maryland State Police pulled over the driver of a Yellow tractor, pulling a white box trailer, who later was identified as Ralph Ramlal.

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Police pulled over Ramlal and his truck at about 12:20 p.m., south of Halfway on Interstate 81, and subsequently closed both lanes of traffic for about 75 minutes, Turano said.

Another tractor-trailer, fitting the description of Ramlal's truck, was pulled over within minutes of Ramlal's by Pennsylvania State Police on I-81 around the Maugans Avenue exit.

Turano said that driver "was not mid-Eastern-looking and there was no cargo in the back."

He said that a Hagerstown Police Department bomb dog was brought in to investigate Ramlal's trailer, but the dog "detected no explosives in the vehicle."

Police called on members of the Washington County Special Operations team, who dressed in protective clothing and looked for chemicals or biological contaminants in the truck at an empty warehouse lot on Industrial Lane in Williamsport, Washington County Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth said.

Turano said they found nothing.

"We took action based on the information that we had," he said. "Thank God it was unconfirmed."

Ramlal, who Turano said is a naturalized citizen doing contractual work by transporting parcels for the U.S. Postal Service, was not charged in the incident. He did have several commercial vehicle enforcement traffic violations, for which he was cited, Turano said.

After his truck was stopped, Ramlal, 42, of South Ozone Park, N.Y., was taken to the state police barracks in Hagerstown, where he was taken into "investigative detention" to determine his identity, Turano said.

He was debriefed and interviewed by an investigative trooper with the Homeland Security and Intelligence Bureau, Turano said.

Ramlal "claims he wasn't involved in any of this," Turano said. He said Ramlal was released from the barracks by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Staff writer Scott Butki contributed to this story.

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