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Fake bomb in New Jersey Transit station derails commuters

(The following article by Abbott Koloff was posted on the Daily Record website on November 1.)

CHATHAM, N.J. -- Rail commuters were stranded for hours and a dozen trains canceled mid-day Monday while law enforcement authorities examined a device left on a Chatham platform apparently built to resemble a bomb.

Authorities said the device was composed of two flares connected by electrical wire to two nine-volt batteries. Authorities cleared the Chatham train station and closed part of Main Street while they conducted an investigation that lasted more than four hours.

NJ Transit authorities said the scare, which began a little before noon, delayed midday trains for hours, with one westbound train held at the Summit station for three hours and 20 minutes. Rush-hour trains did not appear to be affected.

"There is no doubt that this device was made to look like a bomb," said Morris County Prosecutor Michael Rubbinaccio.

Fake bomb found

Rubbinaccio said commuters found a device that looked like dynamite attached to batteries on the Chatham station's westbound platform at 11:45 a.m. and that the Sheriff's Bomb Squad and the Morris County Weapons of Mass Destruction Unit responded. He said they used a device called a "disrupter," which fires water under high pressure, to separate the flares from the batteries and determine that the device was not explosive.

Rubbinaccio said he is hopeful evidence found at the station will lead to whoever planted the device -- and added that authorities are looking into whether the train station is equipped with video cameras.

Paul Kalleberg, deputy chief of the prosecutor's office, said local authorities whose jurisdictions include train or bus stations were notified of the bomb scare and told to be "vigilant."That led to increased police presence at some train stations and to Rockaway Township Police examining the Lakeland Bus terminal Monday afternoon, briefly closing down the station while buses were inspected.

Al Dykstra, safety director for Lakeland, said he escorted police onto the property and demonstrated security cameras that allow Lakeland officials to observe both the interior and exterior of the terminal. Walter Kimble, Rockaway Township's police chief, deferred inquiries to the prosecutor's office.

"We were worried this might be occurring in other parts of the county and the state," Rubbinaccio said. "By mid-afternoon, we were comfortable it was an isolated incident."

Hours of delays

Penny Bassett Hackett, an NJ Transit spokeswoman, said all train service between Dover and Summit was stopped for hours. She said one train heading east was delayed 2 hours and 51 minutes while another, coming from New York and heading west, was held in Summit for three hours and 20 minutes. Four trains were canceled before they left their stations, she said, and another eight trains were canceled after leaving. She did not have details on all the trains affected. She said NJ Transit took some rail commuters to their destinations by bus.

That's how Maria Mendoza got home Monday. She said she waited an hour in Morristown for a train that never came but was directed to take an NJ Transit bus to Dover.

"They told us there was a problem in Chatham, and that we would be waiting indefinitely." Mendoza said.

Teddy Wenner, of Blairstown, said he was stuck on a westbound train sitting in the Summit station for more than two hours while conductors supplied updates. He said passengers were told a suspicious item had been found in Chatham and they would be delayed about 30 minutes.

"Then they told us another 30 minutes, and another," Wenner said.

Wenner said he was coming home from a trip to Chicago and had landed earlier in the day at Newark Airport. He boarded a train in Newark and expected to be home early in the afternoon, catching a train in Dover at 2 p.m. to take him to Hackettstown. He was eating dinner at a Dover restaurant at 5:30 p.m. and said he was waiting for someone to pick him up.

Muddled commutes

Stephen Szewczuk, 40, of Mansfield, said he left work early to catch a train scheduled to leave Convent Station at 2:45 p.m. He said it came about an hour late -- and the usually empty train was packed with commuters. That train dropped him in Dover where he missed a connecting train to Hackettstown, so he was still standing on the Dover platform at 5:45 p.m. He said he had planned to get home early to take his children trick-or-treating.

"It doesn't look like that's happening," he said.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

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