State News

Watches Sent to Edwards Campaign HQ Disarmed

Posted July 12, 2007 11:43 a.m. EDT
Updated July 12, 2007 6:47 p.m. EDT

— Authorities disarmed a suspicious package addressed to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Thursday after the discovery of the package forced the evacuation of numerous businesses Thursday.

The incident marked the third time in recent months that authorities have responded to mail addressed to Edwards' office.

A FedEx envelope from out of state arrived in the mail at about 10 a.m. Thursday, and intermittent beeping could be heard from inside, police said.

Capt. Bob Overton of the Chapel Hill Police Department said he didn't know the contents of the package, but he said authorities deemed it suspicious.

The Durham County Sheriff's Office bomb squad was called in to assist in the investigation. Bomb squad members determined the package didn't pose a threat, but they used a high-powered water jet to disarm it.

"What they found were four watches that were beeping at about three-minute intervals," Interim Chapel Hill Police Chief Brian Curran said. "There was also some literature in there."

It was later determined that the package contained between two and four wristwatches and some literature, police said. The FBI planned to examine the literature as part of its investigation, authorities said.

A small section of the Southern Village complex in Chapel Hill was blocked off, and businesses in about a dozen nearby buildings were evacuated.

Workers were allowed to return to the building about 1 p.m. after the package had been detonated.

Postal employees in Chapel Hill intercepted another suspicious package in May after finding the letter contained a powdery substance. Edwards staffers also evacuated their office in Chapel Hill in March after an employee opened a package that contained a powdery substance and what Edwards later deemed "negative comments."

Both packages tested negative for anthrax, the powdery substance that accompanied letters in 2001 that killed five people and sickened 17 others. Those letters were also mailed to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the news media just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Nearby business owners said they are frustrated by the repeated scares, saying the evacuations are costing them money.

"It's killing business," business owner Jerry Hatfield-Berrang said. "I think it's probably going to get worse. There's going to be more media around here, and there's no parking for customers. I guess we'll just have to put up with it."