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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Bomb Threat Forces Evacuation of Las Posas Plaza

October 09, 1998|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CAMARILLO — A Hughes market and several other businesses in the Las Posas Plaza were evacuated Thursday when an unidentified man telephoned the grocery store demanding money and warning of a hidden bomb.

A suspicious brown bag was found in the store at 674 N. Las Posas Road, but it contained only powdered soap, it was later determined. No bomb was found, according to Ventura County Sheriff's Sgt. Chuck Buttell.

"In situations like this, we always err on the side of caution," the sergeant said.

Employees said the incident started about 1:25 p.m. when a man phoned Hughes store manager Patrick Kellogg and demanded that a brown bag full of cash be brought outside and placed on top of a water vending machine.

The man threatened to shoot people as they left the store if the demand wasn't met, Buttell said. The caller promised, however, that if the money was delivered he would reveal the location of a bomb he claimed to have left in the store.

Some of the threats were reiterated in a note scribbled on scrap paper and left at the store, several employees said. The caller directed Kellogg to the note, which was found in a trash can near a safe at the front of the store, the employees said.

"The note said something like, 'Boom. I'm watching you,' " said checker Bill Quarnstrom, a 10-year employee.

Quarnstrom was told to call police, and employees conducted an aisle-by-aisle search, he said. A sheriff's deputy who responded found the small brown bag stuffed into a cubbyhole at a check stand. The discovery prompted the evacuation, deputies said.

Some 60 employees and customers left the plaza, as did people working and shopping at surrounding businesses, including the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, a shoe store, a juice bar, two banks, a bagel shop and a women's clothing boutique.

"Everybody walked out. We didn't know what was going on, we just followed," Hughes service deli worker Dena Patterson said.

A large portion of the plaza was cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape. A K-9 unit was brought in and a sheriff's helicopter made several passes over the plaza. Despite store closures, some people stayed behind and sipped coffee outside at a bakery that stayed open.

"The only thing I worried about was the helicopter, because I thought it was a bank robbery," said Susan Dalton, a shop worker who came out to watch the action.

Dalton's two sons also work in the plaza. One was evacuated from his bank job and the other, who works at Hughes, was off at the time.

Sheriff's Sgt. Paul Higgason, a bomb squad volunteer, donned the required protective clothing and went into the store. Using a hand-held X-ray machine, he deemed the brown bag safe.

The plaza and its stores reopened about 4:30 p.m.

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