PORTSMOUTH – After hours of preparation a member of the Columbus Division of Fire Bomb Squad in full gear approached a vehicle suspected of having an explosive device inside Tuesday night on Forth Street in Portsmouth. After minutes of the man throwing things from the car and searching every part of it, other members of the bomb squad in regular uniforms approached the vehicle and joined the search.
It was at that point, around 8:40 p.m. that those present at the scene breathed a corporate sigh of relief and for the first time since the scenario began, that there was no explosive device.
“We got an all clear,” Ware said at approximately 9:10 p.m. “There was no explosive device. They are still processing the scene.”
While scores of law enforcement officers waited for the bomb squad to arrive, Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware explained to the Daily Times in an exclusive interview, what brought on the incident in the first place.
“The Lewis County Sheriff’s Department received some information on one of the occupants in the vehicle last night that they may be in possession of an explosive device,” Ware said. “One of their deputies had contact with that vehicle today and a pursuit ensued and they crossed the (U.S. Grant) bridge into Ohio and attempted to flee from the vehicle in an alley on Fourth (Street).”
Ware later talked about the decision to call out the bomb squad.
“Originally we brought in an explosive K-9 from Ohio University,” Ware said. “After assessing the situation we determined the K-9 would not be appropriate for use in this situation, and right now we’re just waiting on those bomb technicians with their gear and equipment to come down and render the vehicle safe to breach the vehicle.”
Ware said two of the occupants were apprehended and are in custody. A third, believed to have been the driver, was able to escape apprehension. He said the names would not be released until a later time. He said the two will be charged with inducing panic and their names will be released on Wednesday morning.
“Based on the information that was received last night and some of the observations that we had inside the vehicle, we determined that it was best to approach this as if there is a device in the vehicle,” Ware said. “Hopefully there’s not, being on the edge of a college campus and in our downtown area, we’re going to take every precaution to make sure that we approach the vehicle safely and nobody is in harms way.”
Ware said the problem was confounded because it began in the middle of the afternoon in the heart of downtown Portsmouth.
“There’s a lot that goes into creating a safe perimeter,” Ware said. “We utilized the assistance of Shawnee State University and the Ohio State Highway Patrol just to be able to set up a perimeter. We have two full shifts of our officers here to assist in maintaining a safe perimeter. And, of course the (Portsmouth) Fire Department is standing by to assist.”
Ware took the time to enlist the help of Shawnee State University public information officer Elizabeth Blevins to help with informing the news media.
The first the public learned of the situation was in the form of the SSU alert.
“SSU Alert – Possible explosive device reported in a car on Third Street. Vern Riffe Center, the Clark Memorial Library and the Teacher Education building evacuated. Please stay away from area.”
That was the first alert which came at 3:16 p.m. Minutes later another alert was issued.
“We’ve been cooperating with the city police,” said Blevins, “we sent out an alert around 3. We evacuated four buildings and closed them for the day. We anticipate, based on enrollment, that about 100 students were impacted by closing those buildings for the evenings.”
The SSU Alert stated, “The Vern Riffe Center, Library, Hatcher Hall and Teacher Ed. buildings are closed for the rest of the day. All other buildings on campus remain open.”
Elizabeth Blevins, public information officer for SSU said the university kept those buildings open to provide a cooling off area for those involved in the operation. The Salvation Army was on hand with bottles of cold water and food.