Bomb threats force three evacuations

Within a 20-minute span the calls came in. People were forced outside into 95-degree heat.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007

A bomb threat Wednesday afternoon sparked the evacuation of a Pasco County government building.

Now repeat that sentence two more times.

Three different bomb threats were reported within a 20-minute span to three county facilities in central and west Pasco - including the courthouse and 911 communications center.

All were evacuated, searched and cleared.

"It was a busy afternoon," said Pasco sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin.

Employees and residents started streaming outside about 1 p.m. to stand in a sweltering 95 degrees for more than an hour.

It wasn't until about 2:30 p.m. when they started filing back into the David "Hap" Clark Jr. Building off U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes and the West Pasco Judicial Center and the Emergency Operations Center in New Port Richey.

Tobin said 911 service was not disrupted by the evacuations.

All three threats were made by male callers, the Sheriff's Office said. The agency doesn't think that the first threat, made to Land O'Lakes, is linked to the last two threats made to New Port Richey. But officials think the last two threats are linked.

The caller who made the first threat warned that an "explosive device" was in the Clark building. It was made to the cell phone of an unidentified woman taking classes there.

The call was made about 2 a.m. Wednesday. But she didn't get the message until the afternoon, when she reported it to firefighters. Pasco Fire Rescue's administrative offices are in the building. The evacuation started at 1:02 p.m.

It was 1:09 p.m. when another threat was called in, this time to the Emergency Operations Center in the West Pasco Government Complex off Little Road.

The operations center houses the county's 911 communications center for Pasco Fire Rescue and the Sheriff's Office. It was unknown if the threat was received via 911 or another phone line.

The operations center was ordered evacuated - somehow accidentally triggering an evacuation of the West Pasco Judicial Center.

Thirteen minutes into that evacuation, a third bomb threat was called in to the communications center.

What building did that caller threaten?

The West Pasco Judicial Center. So the evacuation there continued.

Deputies and firefighters sealed off the courthouse parking lot and kept bystanders across the street. Government and Citizen Drives were also shut down, keeping traffic out of the entire complex. Bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in.

Standing outside in the heat was no fun, said defense attorney Keith Hammond. For some it could have been worse.

"The elderly were having trouble standing ...," he said, "and I was concerned about the infants being overheated."

Even when officials finally let everyone back inside the courthouse, they had to wait for employees to get in first. Then there was a long line outside waiting to go back through the metal detectors inside.

"It was a long two hours in the August heat," Hammond said. "It made me think, what did they do in the old days in courthouses before air conditioning?"

The investigation into the threats is ongoing.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at 727 869-6236 or thalji@sptimes.com.