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Incident halts train traffic; shuts down Airport Way
A group of Sheriffs deputies and other first responders follow a bomb robot on a TV screen. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Airport Way between Louise Avenue and Northgate Drive in West Manteca was shut down shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday after a suspected explosive device was discovered in a black plastic bag at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

A Union Pacific employee found the bag stuffed into the top of one of several sand-filled safety tubs on the shoulder of the road used to protect the railroad crossing arms and signaling device from errant traffic. He called in his concerns to his dispatcher who alerted law enforcement. That call ultimately brought the San Joaquin County Metropolitan Bomb Squad with officers from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and the Manteca Police Department.

The bomb squad brought in a sophisticated bomb seeking robot that they sent some 500 feet down the roadway from an established command post. Officers could watch the progression of the robot on closed circuit TV as it approached the bag and its unknown contents.

Deputies and firefighters remained behind the two bomb squad trucks for cover in case of an explosion during the extended search of the bag. When the robot disturbed the bag with its probing the beeping could again be heard by officers.

Early on in the incident officers said they had found something that made them very suspicious of the bag, adding that it would take longer to determine its volatility. It took until about 8 p.m. to determine with certainty the device was not a bomb.

The road reopened after being closed for four hours. Also, the incident also held up four freight trains. There are 32 trains that pass through Manteca on a typical day.

Traffic was blocked a quarter mile in both directions with fire engines and Sheriff’s deputies posted in the street to detour traffic.

The original call involved the bag being found in the tub on the west shoulder of Airport Way which was the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department’s jurisdiction. It was later that the bomb seeking robot picked up the bag and set it down some eight feet into the middle of Airport Way where it became Manteca Fire Department’s responsibility.

Six Manteca and Lathrop firefighters walked the length of Gianna Lane that parallels Airport Way and told residents of the potential danger and asked them to voluntarily evacuate their homes. Manteca Fire Captain David Marques said the residents willingly cooperated with them when they knocked on some 20 doors. Several said they would go out to dinner instead of eating at home.