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Merced bomb squad responds to 2 scares

Merced's bomb squad was called out twice Tuesday, to dispose of a suspicious-looking object in South Merced in the morning and check out a bomb threat in the afternoon at the Dole food processing plant in Atwater.

Nothing menacing was found in either incident.

About 900 employees were evacuated from the Dole plant at Vine Avenue and Bellevue Road about 3:50 p.m. when someone using a cell phone called California Highway Patrol dispatchers to report the bomb threat.

Sgt. Paul Roseman of the Merced County Sheriff's Department commended Dole management for the very well-executed evacuation of employees from the plant, which was in the midst of processing frozen foods.

He said officers have to treat such incidents seriously and err on the side of caution.

Officer Tim Gaches, a member of the Merced Police Department's bomb squad, said the caller reported a bomb was set to go off in two hours.

He searched the plant with his bomb-sniffing canine, a black Labrador retriever named Nola.

He said there are no known suspects.

In the 8:57 a.m. incident at the intersection of Seville Drive and M Street a small aluminum-bodied flashlight, with wires jutting out of both ends, was discovered by a passing motorist who alerted dispatchers.

The intersection is about a block away from Alicia Reyes Elementary School.

Detective Dave Alcaraz, bomb squad supervisor, said the department's robot picked up the device and moved it from the intersection to an area where several sandbags had been set up.

It was then destroyed with a water cannon.

Merced firefighters were standing by during the two hours it took to destroy the device.

There was some concern that fragments from the modified flashlight could present shrapnel risks.

One battery and some black-colored powder were found after the device was destroyed, Alcaraz said.

Gaches said this wasn't the first time a flashlight has been used as an explosive device.

The powder-like substance will be analyzed.

The device was examined by a remotely operated camera from about 20 feet away and it was decided to back off and let the robot move it.

The flashlight was wrapped in silver electrical tape and definitely looked suspicious, Alcaraz said.

The plant was shut down until midnight while another thorough search was conducted, Gaches said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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