Minturn bomb threat unfounded
“Once we had everybody evacuated and the area secured, it basically became a waiting game,” said Minturn Police Chief Lorenzo Martinez, who responded to a report of “a device that was identified to be a bomb” left next to the ATM machine at the Minturn FirstBank branch shortly after 9 p.m.
Bomb squad specialists from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the eerily illuminated, heavily guarded scene shortly after 2 a.m. They determined within 20 minutes that the “device” contained no explosives and did not need to be detonated.
“It actually took them longer to get into their gear than to X-ray the device,” said Martinez, adding that the device was turned over to him. “It is intact and will be key evidence to prosecute this case,” he said.
Residents who had hurriedly departed from a two-block radius surrounding the bank said firefighters and police told them that the origin of the threat was a cellular phone with an attached note saying, “I am a bomb.”
Martinez declined to confirm the exact nature of the “device,” citing the ongoing investigation.
“I’m going to call it a threatening device for now,” he said Thursday.
Few of the 35 or so residents who were evacuated or turned away from an area between Harrison and Mann avenues lingered for long after being told that it would be several hours before the bomb squad would arrive.
Most said they would stay with friends for the night.
“A bomb in Minturn? You have got to be kidding me. I can’t believe this,” said Jake Williams, who was told by firefighters that his friends Charlene Polemann and Janice Nordike would not be allowed to go to their home near the bank.
Polemann was eventually allowed to retrieve her dog, Jackson.
“We just moved here three weeks ago. I can’t believe something like this can happen here,” said Nordike while watching Polemann walk toward the bank accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy.
Pia Martin, a five-year Minturn resident who lives directly above the bank and was among the first to be evacuated, said she didn’t waste any time in disbelief.
“They knocked on my door and said, “You won’t believe this but we have a bomb threat.’ I grabbed my daughter and my car, and I was out of there,” she said, standing next to her car, which had broken down at a local gas station after her hasty getaway.
“Maybe I’ll win the lottery with all the luck I’ve had tonight,” Martin said, shrugging her shoulders and checking up on her 8-year-old daughter, Nikki, who looked half confused and half sleepy in the back seat.
“I worry about my fish, but the rest is replaceable,” Martin said. “I have renter’s insurance and I paid it.”
Martin and others were evacuated after the threat was discovered by “a local couple getting money from the ATM machine,” Martinez said.
After checking out the device himself, Martinez ordered the area cleared and traffic rerouted off U.S. Highway 24.
Martinez said there will be little sympathy for the suspect or suspects.
“I’m really offended. I consider this a deplorable and irresponsible act, and we aren’t going to tolerate that,” he said. “We are going to actively pursue any leads that lead us to the suspect.”
The investigation will include the the Federal Bureau of Investigation because the bank is a federally insured institution, Martinez said.
A reporter’s calls to the regional FBI office in Denver went unanswered Thursday.
Martinez said FirstBank has already turned over a surveillance tape and is compiling user records from the ATM in the hours before the threat was discovered.
Hazel Chavez, Minturn branch manager of FirstBank, said the bank closed at 4 p.m. and a routine survey of the 24-hour accessible ATM area revealed nothing out of the ordinary.
“Everything seemed normal,” she said.
Kevin Armatage, assistant vice president of FirstBank at Vail, said the bank will cooperate in the investigation. “We are doing everything we can to help them,” he said.
For now, Martinez said, he and his officers will canvass the neighborhood and focus on the “device” to see if it can be traced to its owner.
District Attorney Michael Goodbee said a suspect would face felony menacing charges and a minimum prison term of three to six years, depending on the type of threat and if it included actual explosives or not.
“If it was tied to a bank robbery or if it turns out to be a federal offense, the penalties will be much more severe,” Goodbee said.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at email@example.com