‘Suspicious device’ prompts investigation, street closure in front of SHHS

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

A suspicious device turned out not to be explosive, but police responded Wednesday afternoon with extreme caution, closing down Long Street and evacuating two businesses just after school let out.

Explosives experts from Eugene Police Department responded and “rendered it safe,” Sweet Home Police Chief Bob Burford said. As it turned out, the device was not an explosive.

“While police and the bomb squad did not believe this was an actual explosive device, it was rendered safe using a robot out of extreme caution,” he said. Officials determined that “it was indeed not an explosive device.”

At about 1 p.m., “A school employee reported (to the school resource officer) a suspicious device in the bushes near the front of Sweet Home High School,” Burford said. “The student resource officer responded and kept students away. It happened right after students were released early because of inclement weather.”

Sweet Home police contacted the bomb squad and described the device, Burford said. “A decision was made that they would respond and evaluate it.”

Initially, police blocked Long Street at 15th and 18th avenues. The device was located in the bushes between the sidewalk and parking lot across from Little Joe’s Snack Shack and Dr. Wolthuis’ dental office. Both of those businesses were evacuated.

Two police vehicles were parked beside the device, prompting onlookers to wonder why.

“I don’t care if a car gets blown up,” Burford said. “If it was an explosive device and a car absorbs some of an explosion to keep someone down range from getting hurt, then the car gave its ‘life’ for a good cause.”

After the explosives experts arrived, police expanded the closure area. Long Street was closed from 13th to 18th and 15th Avenue was closed at Highway 20.

The explosives team from Eugene arrived between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. The team used a robot to remotely handle the explosive device. The robot picked up the device with a mechanical arm, set it down and then withdrew. After making some adjustments, technicians then sent it back in to render the device safe at approximately 4:30 p.m.

Police immediately reopened Long Street, but kept the high school parking lot closed for a little longer.

“It looked like it may have been a two-liter bottle of some sort, wrapped tightly in duct tape from top to bottom,” Burford said. “The device had obviously been modified with the duct tape, which made it suspicious.”

The fact it was outside the high school and in light of the recent bombing of a bank in Woodburn made police treat it with maximum caution, Burford said.

“We are investigating who constructed and placed the device there,” Burford said.