Police: Device was ‘nonexplosive’

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KAILUA-KONA — Nonexplosive but designed to fool passers-by is how police described a suspicious device that caused businesses to close and traffic rerouted Friday in downtown Kailua-Kona.

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KAILUA-KONA — Nonexplosive but designed to fool passers-by is how police described a suspicious device that caused businesses to close and traffic rerouted Friday in downtown Kailua-Kona.

Hawaii Police Department officials on Monday released some details about the device that shut down King Kamehameha Mall and a stretch of Kuakini Highway for most of the day. The investigation into who planted the device is ongoing.

Maj. Sam Thomas, with the department’s Administrative Bureau, said the device within the mall was deemed to be “nonexplosive,” but “was certainly designed to fool passers-by.”

“It was designed to deceive people that it would be an explosive device,” Thomas said, “it wasn’t just a backpack that was left unattended.”

Thomas and others were unable to provide more specifics because of the investigation. The incident is classified as a first-degree terroristic threatening case, which is a Class C felony.

No arrests have been made.

Officers responded to a 7:23 a.m. Friday report of a possible suspicious device at the mini-mall and confirmed its presence before closing the area to pedestrians and traffic between Palani Road and Kaiwi Street. The closure remained in effect throughout the day, closing businesses at the mall and causing traffic backups and delays. Shortly after 4 p.m., a team from the U.S. Army’s 303rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, based at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, arrived. The road reopened shortly after 5 p.m. once the team determined the device was not a threat.

That lengthy closure was required because the Police Department had to call on the U.S. Army ordnance team for assistance because it has neither the training nor resources to handle explosives, Thomas said. If time was a factor, police would have expanded the evacuation order.

“They’re very nice and they come all the time when we call, but unfortunately it takes them getting a plane ticket, getting on the plane and getting together their equipment that they need. It used to take longer — they used to have to bring extra stuff but now they actually have some needed resources pre-deployed at (Pohakuloa Training Area),” Thomas said.

Sometimes, the ordnance team is training at PTA, making its response time quicker, but that was not the case Friday.

Maj. Lindsey Elder, 8th Theater Sustainment Command public affairs officer, said via email that a number of factors affect how long a response to the Big Island takes from the time the battalion’s support is requested to the on-scene assessment and the site being cleared. Once a response level is determined, one of the battalion’s emergency response teams, which is set up for response within 30 minutes, is notified and gets on its way to Honolulu airport to take the next available commercial flight.

“Depending on the situation and severity of the mission, use of military aircraft is possible,” Elder wrote.

Once on island, the team is escorted to the scene by police, she said. Depending on the situation, the team might have to travel to PTA for resources first, which can cause an additional delay.

At the scene, it can take a minimum of two to three hours to complete the response. An on-site assessment is needed and personnel must don protective gear, Elder said.

“Every effort is made to expedite completion of the mission and establish safe parameters for the public while doing so,” she said.

Thomas and other officers reached Friday thanked the community for its patience that day.

“We are cognizant that this is great inconvenience and a loss for commercial business, but we had no other alternative in this matter,” he said. “We feel bad when the public’s inconvenienced like this, and unfortunately a lot of times we can’t explain it or it ends up being nothing at all.”

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Added Kona Patrol Capt. Randal Ishii, “We just have to be sure. We don’t want anybody to be hurt. We want to be preventive.”

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.

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