Paul Wellman

The county’s bomb squad used a robot to detonate a suspicious looking device on Garden Street, near the intersection with Cota Street, during rush hour on Tuesday evening, May 6.

The object had been reported at about 4:00 p.m. by a passerby who happened to drop his cell phone near the mushroom shaped brown object with a string sticking out of it, said Santa Barbara Police Department Officer Brain Sawicki. Comparisons were made early in the investigation to a hand grenade, but law enforcement officials’ ultimate assessment was that it was a mortar-type firework round, of the sort that is launched from a tube on July 4, made of paper mache mixed with gunpowder.

Firefighters, police, other city workers, reporters, and some neighbors stood around for a couple of hours until, at 6 p.m. the robot, reflecting the dying glow of the afternoon sun, and remote-controlled from a van at the far end of the block, started to roll slowly toward the inconspicuous device that was lying on a grassy area between the Bethel Church of Christ-which had been evacuated–and a car dealership.

It took almost half an hour for the robot to retrieve the device and then carry it in outstretched claw over to sandbags on the opposite side of the street, depositing the device among sandbags before aiming and firing a round whose explosion, combined with that or the little mortar, filled the air with a very loud pop and the smell of gunpowder. Then it was over.

“Two things I’ve learned about these things,” said Santa Barbara firefighter Steve Espinoza. “They’re never quick, and they’re never eventful.”


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