Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Pipe bomb found on Cape beach

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (June 14, 2005): A pipe bomb found in the surf stayed on a Cape Elizabeth neighborhood beach for five hours Sunday, while children and adults played nearby.

Cape police and a State Police Bomb Squad member said the item was dangerous, and warned the public against going near any such device.

But, when officers handled it, they did so without any special protective gear. The bomb technician said his training has taught him to handle dangerous substances properly.

“It was high noon, the beach was full of kids” when Cameron Gale, a beachfront resident, found the pipe while picking up trash on Casino Beach with his 4-year-old daughter, Annie, putting the garbage in a child’s sand pail.

“My daughter and I go down once a week and do the rounds,” he said. “There was no way to know it was a pipe bomb,” so Gale “tossed it in the bucket with the rest of the trash.”

“It sat next to our towel for five hours in the roaring hot sun,” Gale said. “Everybody was walking by it.”

The pipe was “rolling around in the debris” in the surf, and looked like a harmless piece of copper pipe, Gale said.

"There was no fuse," he said, and no way to know what it really was.

It was still shiny copper, Gale said, so it had not spent much time in the water. “I think if it had washed up it would have been more corroded,” he said. “The little bar code was still intact.”

Not until he brought the pail up to the house and started throwing away the items did Gale peel a piece of tape off the eight-inch pipe, revealing a hole drilled in it. At that point, he realized it was more than a pipe.

He took it out of the bucket, put it on his woodpile and called the police.

Sgt. Andrew Steindl came to the house, picked it up – spilling some gunpowder in the process – and drove it back to the police station, where he covered it with a sandbag in case it blew up.

“I felt it was safe to handle,” Steindl said Tuesday. Otherwise, he said he would not have touched it.

A bomb expert from the Maine State Police came to the station Monday to collect the pipe and destroy it, Steindl said.

That officer, Sgt. Mike Edes, is a member of the State Police Bomb Squad. He took the pipe away and blew it up. "We don't try to dismantle it," Edes said.

The pipe bomb contained gunpowder, he said. "It was very unstable."

Edes said Gale "really put himself in a great deal of danger" by handling the bomb.

Steindl said he handled the bomb with care but without special protective equipment, and Edes said he did the same. Edes said his training taught him to be more careful than perhaps Gale was being. "We know what we're doing," Edes said, calling Gale's actions "the dumbest thing I ever saw."

Steindl and other officers searched the Casino Beach – a neighborhood beach just off Shore Road – on Sunday and again Monday, and found nothing.

“We kind of think it was a one-time thing,” said Police Chief Neil Williams. He suspects someone was either getting rid of the bomb or wanted to see it blow up.

Steindl said the investigation is considering all possibilities for how it got to the beach, including washing up from a boat or being intentionally brought to the beach by someone.

“This is not a terrorist bomb,” said Gale. “Kids do it and they’re going to keep doing it.”

That is his theory – some neighbors mentioned they heard fireworks on the beach Saturday night, and Gale’s trash collection efforts turned up some bottle-rocket debris in nearby rocks.

Edes, from the bomb squad, said pipe bombs are more than just fireworks. "A real pipe bomb is going above and beyond" usual mischief, he said. "We don't see a lot of them just as jokes. When you're dealing with pipe bombs, you're usually dealing with some bad actors."

Cape police have distributed leaflets in the immediate neighborhood, with a picture of the pipe bomb and a warning to people not to touch “anything remotely resembling this.” Instead, people should stay away from it and call police, at 767-3323.