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Friday, June 23, 2006

Possible bomb parts left on train

TRAX: The incident closes a section of the line for five hours; police are looking for a suspect

SANDY - Police are looking for a man responsible for leaving what they believe are bomb components on a southbound TRAX train Thursday.

The discovery of the device prompted the closure of the southernmost section of the line for about five hours after a conductor found a backpack filled with suspicious materials.

"It looked like it had all the components to a bomb, but we're not sure it was actually hooked up to go off," Sandy police Sgt. Victor Quezada said.

While Sandy police are seeking a possible suspect in the case, Unified Fire Authority Capt. Michael Kelsey, whose bomb technicians investigated the bag, said: "There was nothing in [the bag] that would lead them to believe there was something illegal going on."

A bomb technician "thought it was more like something for a guy [with] a heating-and-air-conditioning business."

The incident began around 11 a.m. when a representative at the TRAX lost-and-found department received a call from a man who said he left his laptop on the train. At about the same time, a second person went to Utah Transit Authority's lost-and-found office in downtown Salt Lake City to report that he had left a backpack on a southbound train that had just departed, officials said. The man told the TRAX agent where to find his backpack and what it looked like.

The conductor on that train found the backpack at the next stop and set it aside until he finished his run to the end of the line in Sandy. Once at the station at 115 East 10000 South the conductor removed the backpack from the train and carried it to a nearby security shack where lost items are frequently delivered, said UTA spokesman Justin Jones.

The conductor became alarmed when he opened the backpack to look for identification and saw wires and other components that appeared to be bomb parts. In minutes, the TRAX station was evacuated and service to the line was halted at 9000 South, Jones said.

A bomb squad was called to the 10000 South stop to determine what was inside a backpack and an attached metal box, said Quezada. They eventually found wiring, mercury switches and a butane bottle similar to that used on camping grills.

Meanwhile, the man who reported the missing backpack returned to the lost-and-found downtown around 1 p.m. to ask if it had been found. He was evasive with TRAX personnel but reluctantly gave his name as Dave Messenger, Quezada said.

He was described as in his late 20s, with a dark complexion, about 6 feet tall and about 150 pounds. He was wearing camouflage pants.

Officials do not know whether his report of a lost backpack was related to the person who called in the missing laptop, which has not been found.

After the train and station were evacuated, the suspicious backpack was removed from the security shack by a robot. A bomb squad later hit it with a burst of water to defuse or detonate it, Quezada said.

There was no detonation, Quezada said.

Environmental officials in protective suits were scanning the area, apparently with chemical-detection equipment, Thursday afternoon.

During the incident, TRAX operators shuttled more than 11,000 passengers to their destinations, many needing to get to their cars in the 1,600-stall lot at 10000 South. Some riders were left in the dark about what was happening.

Provo resident Andy Williams said he was left at the 9000 South platform and told to wait or walk. About 45 minutes later, he said, the first train to reach the 10000 South platform - which was reopened around 3:45 p.m. - departed with Williams aboard.

"They just had a bunch of us scratching our heads back there," he said.

Jones said UTA regrets the delays riders may have experienced. There have only been three bomb scares since TRAX began operations in late 1999. The other two instances did not include any harmful materials.
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