N.J. police station evacuated after anthrax threat

By Melissa Castro and Bill Swayze
The Star-Ledger

PEQUANNOCK, N.J. A threatening letter referring to anthrax and containing what turned out to be glass beads prompted the evacuation of Pequannock Township's police department and town hall yesterday.

About 50 emergency responders converged at the scene, where yellow police tape cordoned off the parking lot and building.

An examination of the items showed they were nothing more than amber glass beads, Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said last night.

"All indications are they are nothing to be concerned about," Bianchi said, after the BB-sized beads were analyzed by a spectrometer.

However, the beads will be further tested and results should be know today. "They want to make sure they are not a vehicle carrying another substance," Bianchi said.

Police Chief Brian Spring said he opened what he characterized as a threatening letter that contained "less than a dozen single, honey-colored pellets" about 1:40 p.m. He immediately called the prosecutor's office, triggering a response by the FBI, Homeland Security and Morris County's hazardous materials unit.

A decontamination unit was assembled outside the complex on Newark-Pompton Turnpike. The police dispatcher, Patrolman Timothy Jones, was the first person hosed down. Jones and Detective James Mandeville remained inside the building until a mobile communications unit could arrive to begin handling emergency calls in the 14,000-person community.

No one was reported sickened at the scene or sought treatment at nearby Chilton Memorial Hospital, spokeswoman Sally Malech said.

But Bianchi noted that Mandeville and Jones "risked their health and safety for people of Pequannock" by staying there to make certain communication system was transferred to another location so calls could be answered.

Two responders, wearing protective suits, emerged from the building just before 5:30 p.m. carrying plastic evidence bags that they handed over to Don Dangler, a detective with the prosecutor's office.

Although the emergency responders were hosed down and scrub-brushed by others, Dangler wore gloves but was otherwise dressed simply in a coat and tie.

Lt. Dan Dooley, a department spokesman, said the first word at the top of the typewritten letter was "anthrax" and he said the contents included a "few choice words" that indicated the writer was "apparently disgruntled."

"Obviously he was unhappy with our police department," Dooley said.

While the postal worker who delivered the letter was contacted by authorities, Spring said the post office - located next door - was unaffected by the evacuations at the municipal complex.

Five people died and at least 17 were sickened in the unsolved anthrax attacks of 2001, which involved tainted letters possibly mailed from Princeton. A postal processing center in nearby Hamilton Township was contaminated.

A screening system since installed at a mail center in Kearny did not trigger any alarms for anthrax yesterday, Dooley said.

"Since 9/11, all North Jersey mail is scanned for hazmats in Kearny," he said. "Preliminary readings in Kearny say everything is clean."

The FBI's Hazardous Materials Response Unit and a counterterrorism squad also were dispatched to the scene, said Special Agent Sean Quinn, an FBI spokesman.

"Hopefully it will turn out to be a hoax," Quinn said.

Copyright 2007 The Star-Ledger

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