03/19/12 — Hunt continues for bomb threat callers

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Hunt continues for bomb threat callers

By Kenneth Fine, Phyllis Moore and Gary Popp
Published in News on March 19, 2012 1:46 PM

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Construction continues on the new Cherry Hospital. Construction has been delayed eight times because of bomb threats.

It's a scene that has become all too familiar at the new Cherry Hospital construction site -- workers standing idly by while military bomb experts and local law enforcement sweep the grounds.

But since the first of eight bomb threats was called in back in November, no arrests have been made.

And if it weren't for unusually warm weather, crews might be well behind schedule.

So while Goldsboro Police Department investigators continue to work the case, those charged with attempting to ensure the new three-story, 410,000-square-foot, 316-bed facility opens on time can only cross their fingers.

They know that every empty threat represents a day lost.

To date, few details have been released about the string of incidents -- and just what might motivate someone to create chaos at the site.

"At this point, (the police) haven't informed us of any connection to the hospital," said Julie Henry, spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees Cherry.

But with an estimated 300 to 350 employees working to construct the facility, the department -- and North Carolina taxpayers -- have a vested interest in productivity and lost time there.

Project Manager Carlos Torres is among those concerned.

"We basically shut down for the day (when there is a threat made)," he said. "That day is basically lost."

And despite the fact that nothing bomb-related has ever been found -- the first threat was called in Nov. 22 and the most recent occurrence unfolded March 5 -- Torres has no choice but to clear the grounds each time.

"Company-wise, safety is always first, so we will not sacrifice anything for safety," he said. "It's a distraction, and we're trying to avoid that. We have tried to mitigate as much as we can."

But his staff can only do so much.

Ultimately, they are forced to rely on local law enforcement to solve the case.

"We have got the Goldsboro police working on it," Torres said. "We have been told that (airmen from) the base will not come."

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials balked at the notion that they have refused to respond to recent, or future, threats at the Cherry site -- and were quick to point out that members of the 4th Fighter Wing Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight were mobilized and dispatched to the grounds on five different occasions.

And Capt. Matthew Schroff, the 4th's Public Affairs chief, said that when a call for support comes in from local law enforcement, the base trusts that the threat is credible and, upon the authority of the wing commander, mobilizes members of the EOD unit "nine times out of ten."

Goldsboro police Maj. Jay Memmelaar supported that claim.

He said that since the department took over the investigation, they have not requested support from the base -- that local police have been following leads and, when needed, searching the grounds themselves.

But for now, that is about all the department is willing to say about the investigation -- officers were able to trace the most recent bomb threat to a pay phone in Goldsboro, but Memmelaar declined to comment if more than one call has been traced, or if it appears the same person is making the calls.

"We have initiated an investigation and are following up on all leads we can get," Memmelaar said.