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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

Bus, court evacuated in hoax

BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Authorities examine bus No. 914 on Cherry Street near Spielbusch Avenue after three devices with wires were found on board. Authorities examine bus No. 914 on Cherry Street near Spielbusch Avenue after three devices with wires were found on board.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

Three suspicious devices with wires were found inside a TARTA bus after it stopped for mechanical problems yesterday in downtown Toledo. Authorities closed off several streets and evacuated the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals Building as a precaution.

The devices were nonexplosive after they were examined by members of the Northwest Ohio Bomb Squad. Investigators are reviewing a video from the bus and trying to recover fingerprints from the devices in hopes of identifying who put them on the bus.

Wires were attached to the small, credit card-sized devices, which were attached to the windows. The connections gave the appearance the devices could be activated by opening the window, police said.

"This was a very poor, hoax-type threat," Sgt. Richard Murphy said. "I have no idea why someone would do such a dumb trick."

The bus, No. 914, was stopped by driver Jim Turner outside the court building on Cherry Street near Spielbusch Avenue because it was experiencing mechanical problems, said Steve Atkinson, TARTA's marketing director. The bus, which came from TARTA's Central garage, was a replacement for another bus that also was having mechanical problems.

When mechanical problems were experienced on the replacement bus, Mr. Turner redirected the approximately 15 passengers to another nearby route and they got off the bus. A male passenger, who authorities described as a frequent rider, told the veteran driver as he was getting off the bus that there was something suspicious toward the back of the bus, police said.

Mr. Turner found the devices and alerted TARTA's dispatcher, who dialed 911, Mr. Atkinson said. Bomb-sniffing dogs walked through the bus and bomb squad members evaluated the situation. The devices were removed, and the bus was eventually put back into service, Mr. Atkinson said.

About 30 court personnel left the building and returned around 1 p.m. - about two-and-a-half hours after the incident began. Police notified neighboring businesses and agencies about the bus situation, but most, such as Capital Tire just west of where the bus was parked, did nothing.

"It can't be too serious or else they'd be asking us to get out of here," said Debbie Lewis, manager of the Greenbelt Place apartments across the street, which has about 400 residents.

After the bomb threat aboard the bus was reported, Mr. Atkinson said all TARTA drivers were told to find a safe place to pull over and inspect their buses. Bus stations and TARTA properties also were searched.

A report of a problem aboard a second bus turned out to be tools left behind by a mechanic.

Otherwise, nothing suspicious was found, and bus service was not disrupted, Mr. Atkinson said.

"In a situation like this, you can't be too careful," he said.

Although authorities do not believe the incident was terror-related, the FBI responded and Homeland Security personnel from Cleveland called responding local agencies, Sergeant Murphy said.

Mr. Atkinson said the possibility of terrorism should never be ruled out.

"We live in a different time. We have to take things like this seriously," he said.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Federal Transportation Administration introduced new training for drivers, such as being aware of suspicious activities and things left on buses, Mr. Atkinson said.

He asserted that TARTA employees have undergone that training.

While TARTA has no plans to search riders' belongings, it is asking passengers to be aware and report anything suspicious to drivers.

Mr. Atkinson said drivers do a pre-trip inspection on the buses, but he did not know if one was done on bus 914, because it was pressed into service as an emergency replacement.

Contact Christina Hall at

chall@theblade.com

or 419-724-6007.



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