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Suspicious man, package closes Richmond BART, halts Amtrak service for hours

(The following story by Robert Salonga appeared on the Contra Costa Times website on July 21.)

RICHMOND, Calif. — A man dressed like Indiana Jones left a suspicious backpack with wires sticking out on a westbound Capital Corridor Amtrak train, halting BART and Amtrak service for about four hours.

The suspect escaped by jumping out of a top window on the double-decker train and running away while the train was at the Richmond BART station, which is a transfer station between BART and Amtrak.

Police used a water cannon, which utilizes a strong burst of water, to destroy the backpack. No bomb was found inside, but an electrical device with red and black wires was, Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan said.

"We were not able to determine what it was," he said.

While police investigated the suspicious backpack, the BART parking lot and surrounding streets were blocked off with yellow tape by police. Frustrated BART customers waited outside the barricade for service to resume or to pick up their cars from the parking lot.

BART trains headed for Richmond were turned around at the El Cerrito-Del Norte station. Buses ferried passengers between the two stations.

"I can't believe this, it was a day I where I was looking forward to getting off early, beating the traffic and going home," said AC Transit bus driver Michael Graham, whose car was stuck in the lot. "I hope it's not a false alarm, for all of this."

Monday's incident began when a police received reports of a man acting suspiciously, leaving the backpack in one Amtrak car and then removing windows from another, Richmond police Sgt. Bisa French said. The man had boarded the train in Martinez.

When the train stopped in Richmond, the man threatened a train conductor who approached him, and then jumped out the top window of the double-decker train — an approximate 15-foot drop — before running into a nearby neighborhood, French said.

"Because we needed to clear the area and the train, we didn't have enough officers to pursue the suspect," Gagan said. "We prioritized."

Police are still searching for the suspect, described as a white man in his mid 30s to mid 40s, 6 feet tall, 140 pounds, with a goatee and ponytail, and wearing a brown coat, blue jeans and a tan shirt. He was also sporting a wide-brimmed Indiana Jones-style hat, Richmond police Sgt. Bisa French said.

BART service resumed just after 3 p.m. and the Amtrak train left around 3:30 p.m. Amtrak employees blocked off the two compartments of the train where the backpack was found.

Anyone with information is asked to call local authorities, French said.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

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