ATF, FBI assist city police with pipe bomb investigations

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI have been called in to assist Elizabethton Police Department with the investigation of three pipe bombings during the last week.
   On Thursday, Capt. Rusty Verran and members of the police department responded to 1604 Burgie St., after receiving a complaint that a Jeep Cherokee had been damaged by an explosion.
   John David Hopson, 38, told police that his family heard a loud bang shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday. Police were contacted at the time of the explosion but no evidence of the source was found.
   Thursday morning, as Hopson was preparing to leave for work, he found that his Jeep had two flat tires on the right side. Upon further investigation, several pieces of pipe were found in and around the vehicle. City Detectives Greg Workman and Grayson Winters were called to the scene, along with agents from the FBI, ATF, and the Johnson City Bomb Squad. The vehicle was taken to Carter County Sheriff's Department for processing.
   Around 11:15 p.m. Saturday, Elizabethton Ptl. Jason McCall and Capt. Clyde Croy were called to the 500 block of Jena Beth Drive regarding a loud noise. Residents told the officers they heard what sounded like an explosion coming from east of the location. Because of the call volume, officers were unable to check the area immediately.
   Around 1:15 a.m., Ptl. McCall was patrolling in the vicinity of Valentine Drive and Bonnie Kate Boulevard near Jena Beth Drive when he observed several damaged mailboxes. The officer notified 911 Emergency Communications Center that the noise heard earlier in the evening apparently was caused by a pipe bomb that had been exploded inside one of the boxes.
   Capt. Mike Peters and Detective Workman of the Criminal Investigation Division were called to the scene and ATF was notified.
   Metal fragments were located in five separate locations spread over 150 feet from the point of explosion. Two newspaper boxes belonging to the Johnson City Press and one belonging to the Elizabethton Star were destroyed and three mailboxes severely damaged. Evidence was turned over to ATF.
   A witness told Sgt. Charles Moreland that he heard a vehicle with a loud muffler drive by about 10 seconds before the bomb went off, damaging power lines, a fence and house.
   The latest pipe bomb was located Sunday along the roadway near 413 Monument St. Detective Workman, ATF Agent Greg Moore, members of Elizabethton Fire Department, Carter County Rescue Squad, and Johnson City Bomb Squad responded.
   Deputy Chief of Police Larry Shell said Monday, "We are seeking out all the leads we possibly can to try to uncover the person who is doing this. We're taking it very seriously. It's a very dangerous crime, a very dangerous act."
   Shell said all of the pipe bombs are made from the same material and appear to be consistent, though the bombings appear to be at random locations.
   Anyone encountering what they believe to be a pipe bomb is advised to keep their distance and to notify police immediately. "They're like a hand grenade" when they explode, Shell said. "They send fragmentation flying in the air and whoever or whatever is in the path will be struck."
   Shell said it has not been determined whether the pipe bombs were made by amateurs or professionals. Information on how to construct a pipe bomb is readily available on the Internet and at bookstores. The sophistication of the device depends on the degree of knowledge of the person putting the pipe bomb together, Shell said. Some pipe bombs contain projectiles of nails or glass while others are simply packed with black powder. Some are capped on the ends, some are not.
   Shell said that aside from several explosive devices found recently in Kingsport, "this is the only incident I have heard about in this area."
   Acid bombs found last Wednesday at Colorworks Inc., 151 Iodent Way, are believed to be unrelated. Carter County Sheriff's Department is investigating.
   Anyone with information regarding the pipe bomb incidents is asked to contact Elizabethton Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division at 547-6411 or 547-6413.