Potentially explosive bottles an apparent ‘prank’
David Jones of the Gilmer County Fire Department puts a suspicious bottle found in a Buckhorn Estates yard into a bucket as Mike Dempsey assists. (Photo by Ryan R Rees)
by Ryan R Rees
The investigation into three suspicious bottles found in the yard of a Buckhorn Estates resident Wednesday morning has revealed they were likely amateur attempts to create minor explosive devices, authorities said.
Fire Chief Tony Pritchett said the bottles apparently contained muriatic acid, and there were also pieces of aluminum foil found at the scene that can be used as igniters.
“There are things on the Internet that show if you put aluminum foil in a bottle with acid it can
dissolve the aluminum and explode,” he said.
“We think that’s what this was. Right now, we’re treating this as a prank and an isolated incident and hope it isn’t repeated.”
Homeowner Ricky Wingard said he took one of the bottles with him on a work call before taking it to the fire department Feb. 27. He was told to call the sheriff's office and return the bottle to his yard.
Gilmer County fire and sheriff’s officials arrived shortly and the GBI and Cherokee County hazardous materials team were called to the scene and the bottles, one of which had burst open earlier, were removed without incident.
“It didn’t look right, so I didn’t open it,” Wingard said. “It had a light, muddy color.”
A neighbor across the street, Mike Dodd, said he heard a bang the previous night around 10 p.m.
“I thought it was a car backfiring but I didn’t see any vehicles,” Dodd said.
Wingard’s son, Luke, also said he heard a bang about the same time.
One of the bottles was still intact, another was partially crushed and the third had burst open, officials said. All three were recovered by the haz-mat teams and taken for further analysis. Officials on the scene said it didn’t appear to be anything dangerous.
Pritchett said the incident could have been more involved if the bottles had been put in a mailbox, which would have been a federal offense for destroying government property.
“In that case, the GBI would have investigated further,” he said.
Darrell Mitchell of the GBI Special Operations division said, “Our main concern in incidents like this is public safety for the officers on scene and anyone else involved. You never know. It could have been kids trying to mix something up they saw on the Internet or it might be something else.”
Capt. Frank Copeland of the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office was asked if the agency was investigating what may be a “prank.”
“We don’t currently have a detective assigned to this case,” he replied. “The event is one often carried out by juveniles as a prank. I have responded over the last 15 years to several of these type calls.”
Copeland said depending on the quantity and potency of the ingredients an explosion that sounds like a rifle — or the boom of a shotgun — can be produced.
“The point is not to injure, just surprise,” he said. “Now I am sure, somewhere, people have been injured by doing this. This is a recipe for some kind of disaster. I do not know of anyone using this to intentionally cause harm to others. I do know that placed inside a mailbox this device will destroy the mailbox much like a large firecracker or M-80 (firework).
“But I’m not sure the FBI or BATF would be interested in investigating due to the destruction of a mailbox.”
Copeland said if the sheriff’s office discerns a trend they will investigate.
“Is it stupid and dangerous to do this? Yes,” he said. “Can property damage or injury result? Yes. Is this particular case serious enough to have a full-blown criminal investigation? I don’t think so at this time. If this type thing continues where someone is ‘pranking’ someone else with these devices or causing damage or fear, or it appears that someone is intentionally attempting to harm someone else, then the sheriff’s office will absolutely investigate. At this time though, there is really nothing to go on as far as an investigation is concerned.”
Copeland added he was “not trying to sugar-coat the seriousness” of the pranks, mentioning some teenagers in Snellville were charged for felonies for conducting explosive experiments in one of the teen’s back yards.
“I don’t know if we have reached the felony stage for this type of case right now,” he concluded. “As I said, other elements could raise this type of behavior to a level where we would investigate fully.”
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