Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More bomb jitters
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A member of the Montgomery County Bomb Disposal Unit approaches a suspicious bag near a bench in front of the Mosteller Garage on East Chestnut Street in West Chester on Tuesday.
WEST CHESTER - A day after an attendant discovered a bomb outside a downtown parking garage, the bomb squad returned to investigate another suspicious package.
Police responded after about 4:30 p.m., when a passerby reported a suspicious, dirty, oily, tan bag was leaning on the base of a bench outside the Mosteller Garage in the first block of East Chestnut Street.
Police immediately taped off the area and summoned the Montgomery County Bomb Squad, which covers a five-county region. Upon inspection, the bomb squad found the old bag was filled only with clothing.
The passerby reported the suspicious package while authorities were still investigating Monday's incident. About 7:15 a.m. Monday, a parking attendant found a bag containing a bomb in some landscaping near the garage.
Police said the bomb - which reportedly was constructed with wires, a circuit board, a container of fluid and metal pipe - was detonated and rendered safe about 1 p.m. Monday by the bomb squad.
West Chester Police Chief Scott Bohn said Monday's event put local residents on alert. He applauded action taken by the passerby Tuesday.
"As we suspected, it was nothing ... but on a positive note, they did the right thing," Bohn said. "Sensitivities are heightened, and citizens are certainly aware of what's been going on in this community."
As West Chester police closed off streets again Tuesday, West Goshen police were responding to their own report of a suspicious package, which also turned out to be a false alarm.
This Sunday, the borough is expecting up to 7,000 people to gather downtown for the annual restaurant festival. Mayor Dick Yoder, who watched as Tuesday's investigation unfolded, said he does not expect this week's activity to interfere with the event.
But the discovery of the real bomb has put the borough slightly on edge.
"We're holding our breath a little bit because this is a big weekend for us," Yoder said. "It just confuses me why anyone would feel compelled to hurt people or to potentially hurt people."
Bohn advised people who may be unsure of reporting something suspicious that they should "trust their gut, trust their judgment and call the police."
At least 20 investigators are working the case of Monday's mysterious bomb, Bohn said.
The investigation began after several garage patrons told an attendant about a suspicious person on the west side of the garage, police said. When the attendant investigated, he reportedly saw a male dressed in black heading west on East Chestnut Street. Then the attendant noticed a bag with wires near a garage entrance.
The suspect is described as a male of an unknown age and race who was dressed in black clothing, including a hooded sweatshirt and hat.
About an hour earlier, police said, someone had noticed a suspicious person dressed in black who was possibly carrying a bag in an alley near the garage.
"I certainly don't think it's a stretch to say that whoever this individual is intended to someone ill harm," Bohn said.
Investigators were interviewing employees at neighboring businesses Tuesday and attempting to obtain any surveillance video from the area, Bohn said. The garage does not have security cameras.
Dave LaLeike, a member of West Chester Residents for Responsible Planning, said he had asked the borough in April about parking garage security cameras. Not having cameras, he said, could be a liability for the borough.
"I think what they're doing is they're gambling. They're not putting money into the garages they should be," LaLeike said.
The garage is more than 35 years old and is expected to be demolished and rebuilt next year.
In August, Borough Manager Ernie McNeely said officials were investigating a video surveillance system for the new garage.
Attempts to reach McNeely for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.
To contact staff writer Jennifer Miller, send an e-mail to jmiller@dailylocal.com.