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Bomb Unit detonates device discovered on Sanibel beach on Sunday

By Staff | Apr 13, 2009

A suspicious item discovered on Easter morning was detonated on the property behind the Sanibel Police Department by members of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department Bomb Unit, but responders weren’t able to determine exactly what the device was.

According to the police report released on Monday, Richard McCurry, the owner of Sanibel Cafe, discovered a small device while strolling along Lighthouse Beach on the east end of the island.

“I was just walking along the beach and I saw something shiny sticking up out of the sand,” said McCurry, who initially thought the item was a bottle. “It was mostly submerged and covered in green algae. It looked like it had been there a while, but when I pulled it out, I kinda knew what it was.”

With his background as a hunter, McCurry recognized that the bottom of the device appeared to have a triggering mechanism, much like that of a bullet. However, he wasn’t worried about the item going off.

“That thing was probably rolling around in the water for years, banging against the cement slabs around the Fishing Pier and stuff, so I knew it was probably safe to handle,” he added. “I wanted to remove it from the beach because I knew that if I were a kid, I’d probably want to bring it home and take it apart. That could’ve been dangerous.”

McCurry immediately brought the item – described as a metallic black cylinder, approximately six inches long and two-and-a-half inches in diameter – to the parking lot of Tahitian Gardens, where he was met by a police officer at 9:57 a.m. The officer took possession of the device and transported it to Sanibel Police Department headquarters.

Once received at the Dunlop Road facility adjacent to City Hall, officers moved the device outside to the northwest corner of the property while other officers established a perimeter around the building for safety purposes. The Sanibel Fire & Rescue District was immediately contacted along with the Lee County Port Authority Bomb Squad, who relayed the request for assistance to the Lee County Sheriff’s Department Bomb Unit.

At 12:40 p.m., the Bomb Unit arrived on scene, in addition to members of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, and assumed incident command. Following their investigation on site, the device was detonated by Bomb Unit personnel at 2:20 p.m.

The responding units, however, were unable to determine exactly what the package was. By 2:40 p.m., the area was rendered secure by Sanibel police.

Bill Tomlinson, Chief of the Sanibel Police Department, explained on Wednesday that he believed the object found by McCurry was not an explosive device at all, rather a lead weight used by fishermen on commercial fishing vessels.

“The object was completely inert,” said Tomlinson. “It probably fell off a fishing rigging offshore and just washed up here. Our department made a cautious response because they wanted to make sure the public was safe.”

Tomlinson also noted that prior to World War I, military vessels frequently patrolled the waters of Southwest Florida, and it is possible that some old munitions from that era may turn up on Sanibel’s beaches. However, this was not the case on Sunday.

“If people see something suspicious on the beach, they shouldn’t attempt to touch it or turn it over to the police themselves,” he added. “They should leave it alone and call the police immediately.”