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Mysterious box shuts down law enforcement center

by Merrie Leininger

A mysterious Christmas package shut down the Douglas County Law Enforcement Center for about an hour Monday morning.

The package didn’t deliver holiday spirit, but generated a good deal of suspicion when it was discovered sitting on a table near the main doors with no name or tags on it, said Sgt. Lance Modispacher. It was wrapped in Christmas paper with bows on top. He said it must have been placed there over the weekend.

Modispacher called Office Depot, which usually delivers supplies, but was told there was no delivery made to the building over the weekend.

To be on the safe side, officials evacuated the building of personnel from three courtrooms and the sheriff’s office.

“At about 8:30 a.m., we told all the employees to take about an hour and we called the Tahoe-Douglas Bomb Squad,” Modispacher said. “At about 10, we learned it was a case of Kleenex. There was no label on it and we didn’t know who it was to or who it was from. If we had known at least who it was to, we could have contacted them and asked them if they were expecting a package.”

Some employees stood around in the parking lot, stamping their feet in the subfreezing temperature and joking that other employees who wanted to have the day off left the mysterious package.

– Tissue. The Tahoe-Douglas Bomb Squad from Glenbrook was called to X-ray the package.

“In our X-ray machine, we can monitor its energy. We know what to look for, but we don’t want to tell the tricks of the trade,” said Roger Wheeler, bomb technician and DCSO investigator.

Squad members, Mark Danihel and John Hayes from Tahoe-Douglas and Aaron Crawford, DCSO, wore protective suits made of the same materials as bullet-proof vests. Wheeler said when the squad looked at the box through the X-ray machine, they determined it was not dangerous and opened it, discovering the boxes of tissue inside.

Wheeler said the bomb squad is one of three in the state and recently joined a federal task force. Members of the bomb squad include sheriff’s officers and fire department personnel.

Wheeler said when the squad first arrives on a scene, members try to assess how serious the situation is.

“We try to talk with witnesses and figure out a plan of action,” he said.

Wheeler said although the suspicious package caused a lot of commotion, it is kind of common-place for the squad.

“We have gone on 67 training and callouts this year and this is our 43rd actual (incident),” he said.

– Jail. Douglas County Jail Lt. Al Baumruck said the jail personnel and inmates stayed in the facility during the incident and inmates weren’t even told the bomb squad was called in. The jail is in the northwest corner of the law enforcement building.

“Based on the logic of what we knew at the time, and the number of solid walls between us and that package, we didn’t do anything until we knew a little bit more,” Baumruck said.

He said the jail has policies regarding evacuation.

“If there is an immediate danger to personnel or the inmates, we will evacuate. If it is life-threatening, we will even just turn them loose and tell them to meet somewhere and worry about who is there later. Their lives are more important. The majority will stay where we tell them because they don’t want any more trouble,” he said.

Baumruck said the last time the jail was evacuated was the summer of 1998. In that case, a trustee combined chlorine and Comet while cleaning and created a chlorine gas cloud in the jail.

“Within four hours, it was back to normal,” he said.

The last time the law enforcement building was evacuated for a bomb scare was in early September 1998 when a man who had received a threatening note on his car drove to the DCSO and parked in front of the building.