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1,700 People Evacuated at LAX, Burbank Airport

A car battery and an unauthorized entry trigger the incidents, causing some delays.

September 03, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

About 1,700 people were evacuated from Los Angeles International and Burbank airports on Tuesday after a suspicious package was found at one and a man slipped through an employees-only door at the other.

At LAX, a suspicious object found about 3 p.m. in the customs section of the Tom Bradley International Terminal turned out to be a car battery, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. But its discovery prompted a brief evacuation and delays for about 1,500 passengers.

At Burbank Airport, a man who entered a preflight waiting area via an employees entrance was a relative of a passenger and did not pose a safety threat, authorities determined.

But the man, 39-year-old David Houser of Agoura Hills, "was only marginally cooperative with the investigation. He gave inconsistent statements," said Lucy Burghdorf, spokeswoman for the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport.

Police released him, Burghdorf said, because "there was no evidence of criminal intent."

Houser apparently had followed an airport restaurant employee through a special door that the employee had opened by swiping a security badge, authorities said. An airline worker who spotted the slip-in sounded the alarm, and Houser was immediately intercepted.

"It appears [Houser] just didn't know any better," said airport police Chief Michael Post.

Officials are investigating whether the door failed to lock or if someone failed to make sure security doors shut after passing through, Post said.

Security breach-related evacuations have occurred at Burbank Airport about half a dozen times since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to police. None turned out to be a major incident. After an evacuation, passengers typically have to go through a security check again with their carry-on bags.

On Tuesday, about 200 people were evacuated and the repeat screening caused a long line to snake into the airport hallway. It took half an hour to process and delayed one flight by 15 minutes, Burghdorf said.

Passenger David Pyeatt, a software analyst who lives in Woodland Hills, said he was disturbed by how easily the breach apparently occurred and criticized how Transportation Security Administration officers refused to explain what happened, which would have alleviated people's concerns.

But passenger Charles Cicchetti, a USC professor who lives in Pasadena, wasn't bothered.

"It's better to be safe than to have something go wrong," Cicchetti said, adding that the security administration "did very well. They let us back in quickly."

The security administration declined to comment on the incident, citing an ongoing investigation.

"Security measures are sensitive and they can't be discussed," said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the federal agency.

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