Local man finds suspicious device, brings it home; bomb squad investigates

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
Officers of the Elizabethton Police Department and Johnson City Police Department bomb technicians responded to a call late Wednesday night from a city resident stating that he had found a suspicious package he believed may contain an explosive device.
According to reports, Robert Gene Mathes, of 507 E. Cottage Ave., Apt. 14, told officers that he had found the unidentified package at another location and had brought it home to inspect it when he became suspicious of it.
"(Mathes) advised that he was walking on Fire Tower Road (located in Carter County) and found the container caked in mud," EPD Ptl. Jennifer Mayberry states in a police report. "(Mathes) took the container home and was washing it when he noticed the paper and wires inside."
The device was described by EPD Sgt. Jack Ramsey as a small jar, possibly an olive jar, which contained wires, what appeared to be a blasting cap and a piece of paper with the words "High Explosive M-66" written on it. The jar also contained another unidentified substance which could have been explosive filler, according to Ramsey's report.
"The device looked genuine to me, though I have little training in explosive devices," Ramsey states in his report.
At approximately 11:20 p.m. Wednesday night, Ramsey contacted EPD Deputy Chief Larry Shell on the phone and advised him of the situation. "He authorized me to contact the Johnson City Police Department watch commander and request assistance from their Bomb Squad.
"Out of caution, we contacted Johnson City and requested aid from their bomb technicians due to the suspicious nature of the package," Shell said.
Residents in the immediate area were relocated a safe distance away from the device, which Mathes had taken outside and placed in the yard before calling 911. According to the report by Ramsey, on the advice of officers of the Johnson City Police Department, residents were advised to move to the far side of the building or to other residences until the device had been rendered safe.
At approximately 1 a.m., bomb technicians from the Johnson City Police Department arrived on the scene. "They surveyed the device and determined that it did contain a blasting cap and wires," Ramsey states in his report. "After deliberation, they decided to place the device in their containment vessel and transport it for remote destruction."
After securing the device in their vehicle, the bomb technicians then left the scene.
"The device was taken to be destroyed," Shell said. "The source of origin is unknown."
Shell stated that he has received no additional information from the Johnson City Police Department regarding the incident, or what, if anything, officers were able to learn about the device.
The purpose of the device may never be known, according to Shell. "This particular case is not a bomb threat or a bombing type incident. It was a suspicious item that was found in a rural area of the county and brought home by an individual," he said. "It's alarming any time you find a suspicious device like this, but if it had been placed somewhere with the intent to do harm it would have been handled differently."