By Doane Yawger
The Merced Sun-Star
MERCED, Calif. — For the third time in about three weeks, Merced police had to use their remote- control robot Wednesday afternoon to destroy a suspicious-looking explosive device on West 28th Street near Bear Creek.
A city public works employee discovered the baseball-sized spherical object covered with black electrical and blue masking tape and two 12-inch speaker wires about 2:32 p.m. The Merced Police Department's bomb squad destroyed the device at 4:25 p.m.
Lt. Floyd Higdon said police have no idea who might have fabricated the bomb replica or placed it on the street and Officer Tim Gaches said there was no telling what was actually inside the soft-sided object.
"The spectrum runs from innocent to devious, with criminal intent," Higdon said.
The police department's $130,000 robot, pressed into service in March 2006, was deployed to pick up the suspicious device with its mechanical arm, move it about 75 feet, place it against a curb and destroy it.
A water charge propelled by a blank shotgun shell blew up the device, with small shreds of toilet paper lying near the bulb of the cul-de-sac that butts up to G Street at the end of West 28th Street.
Detective Dave Alcaraz, bomb squad supervisor, praised the robot, which enables officers to handle potentially explosive material safely from a distance.
"This robot is the way to go. It (the device) definitely was suspicious. It takes a little bit more time but we don't want to rush into anything," Alcaraz said.
On March 27-28, bomb squad members dismantled suspicious devices on Childs Avenue near Golden Valley High School and then one at the Yosemite Surgery Center on East Yosemite Avenue.
Alcaraz is hoping a request to replace the 1984 Chevrolet pickup bomb truck is successful in this year's budgeting process. The battery-operated robot barely fits inside the tight box van enclosure.
Utilizing numerous close-up and distance cameras along with sound, Gaches used toggle switches to move the four-wheeled robot up to the taped device, check it out closely and then move it 25 yards down the street.
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Calif. bomb squad robot destroys suspicious device