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Report of smoking devices shuts down road, train tracks

(The following story by Virginia Bridges appeared on The Herald-Sun website on June 10.)

DURHAM, N.C. -- Police shut down a section of Cornwallis Road between Miami Boulevard and Davis Drive to investigate a report Thursday morning of masked men throwing smoking devices onto a railroad track.

No one was injured or evacuated from nearby offices, Durham police reported, but the incident did delay automobile and train traffic for about three hours.

Police linked the incident to three protest banners found on bridges in Research Triangle Park.

The banners, white linens with black lettering, were hung in protest of the Group of Eight summit being held this week in Sea Island, off the coast of Georgia.

The G-8 summit annually brings together world leaders from the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia.

Durham Police Watch Commander Lt. Ron Evans said one banner, at Cornwallis Road and the Durham Freeway, read: "RTP is quarantined due to the G-8 summit."

The banners also were found hanging from bridges at Interstate 40 and South Miami Boulevard, and at the Durham Freeway and T.W. Alexander Drive.

Police received a call at 7:28 a.m. Thursday about three to four men wearing white surgical masks who were throwing devices, possibly smoke bombs, from a car, said Evans.

Police reported receiving different descriptions of the car, including a pickup truck and a station wagon, Evans said.

The Durham Police Department, the Durham County Sheriff's Office, the Durham Fire Department and Norfolk Southern Corp. security officers responded to the scene, he said. That's where they found two flare-like devices on the railroad track that intersects Cornwallis Road just west of Miami Boulevard, Evans said.

Police also found evidence that someone had tried to trigger the traffic-blocking lights and gate at that location and farther down the tracks, Evans said.

Once the bomb squad determined that the items left on the tracks were safe, police began their investigation, Evans said. None of the evidence indicates that the incident was targeting a specific person, place or business, he said.

"I think they were just trying to get everybody's attention," Evans said.

The incident also forced a freight train en route from Raleigh to Linwood to be delayed until police could clear the scene at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, said Robin Chapman, manager of public relations for Norfolk Southern.

However, the incident wasn't reported in time to stop all railway traffic. Just as the protest was being reported to police, an Amtrak passenger train traveling from Raleigh to Charlotte went through the intersection without incident, Evans said.

Chapman, meanwhile, said he couldn't think of any previous instances similar to this.

"Of course, there is a cause for concern, but we look at this as an isolated incident," Chapman said.

Anyone with information about the incident can call Durham Crimestoppers at 683-1200.

Friday, June 11, 2004

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