An abandoned rice cooker at Lakeview Commons caused quite a stir Sunday evening.
Concerns that the unattended cookware was a potential bomb led police to shut down nearly one mile of Highway 50 for two hours and evacuate the surrounding area while they investigated the device.
A Race the Lake of the Sky security guard was making a final sweep after the two-day paddle festival about 7 p.m. and discovered the rice cooker wedged beside a rock wall and a bear box. The guard thought it was a strange place for a rice cooker, so he alerted lead volunteer Tony Piscitelli.
“It was brand-new and it was sitting there by itself and it looked suspicious,” Piscitelli said. “There was no plug on this thing and no place to plug in a rice cooker down there.”
Piscitelli, race official Jared Brackett and two security guards took stock. Jared Brackett said he thought it looked like a rice cooker and wanted to pull the lid off. Piscitelli and the security guards, however, wanted to use caution given the number of people in the area. They started asking bystanders about the rice cooker, but no one laid claim.
With the Boston Marathon and a recent Reno Rodeo bomb threat in the back of his mind, Piscitelli said he decided to call the South Lake Tahoe Police Department and get a second opinion.
Four officers arrived on the scene about 7 p.m. and decided on a plan to deal with the abandoned rice cooker.
Event organizers and police cleared the immediate area and began to divert Highway 50 traffic around the area of Lakeview Commons.
The Douglas County bomb squad was on the scene within 40 minutes and brought a bomb robot with them.
Meanwhile, race organizer Chris Brackett was trying to make a dent in the cleaning processes.
“I’m scouring the park, picking up trash, and I’m hustling because I know I’m running out of time and all of sudden there’s these two guys up there and they’re like ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and there’s this metal robot thing that I’m standing right by,” Chris Brackett said. “I was like, ‘Sorry guys, I didn’t know. I’m just cleaning up,’ and they were like ‘Oh, it’s just you.’”
However, the robot did not work properly, so a bomb squad member put on protective gear, walked in and destroyed the device with a PAN Disrupter, which is a type of water cannon, according to the release.
“They blew it up and it was pretty loud, which we all thought was the bomb,” Piscitelli said.
Once the device was rendered safe, it was determined to be an industrial-size electronic rice cooker, which contained food, according to a South Lake Tahoe Police Department press release.
“Who brings a rice cooker to the beach and leaves it?” Piscitelli asked. “It was a little inconvenient, but every officer we spoke to, told us that we did the right thing by calling it in. And in the end Chris got his fireworks and road closure all in one.”