Acid bombs explode in mailboxes

Authorities searching for suspects


Authorities are looking for information on who placed six acid bombs in Port Charlotte and Deep Creek mailboxes Wednesday and Thursday.

Four of the homemade bombs exploded, but no one was injured, according to authorities.

Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Bruce Ogden, liaison officer of the Southwest Florida Terrorism Task Force, said the bombs "are the result of criminal mischief, and not organized terrorism."

"This kind of activity has happened before, just before high school graduation or near the end of the school year," Ogden added. "Kids think this is funny blowing up mailboxes, but they don't realize the seriousness of the situation."

The suspects combined muriatic acid and aluminum foil in 1-liter plastic bottles and placed them in the boxes, authorities said. The resulting chemical reaction can smolder and explode.

The acid can cause blindness, severe eye or skin irritation and respiratory problems.

The first bomb was discovered Wednesday morning on Angol Street in Deep Creek. Nancy Fleming said her 17-year-old daughter was leaving for school when the girl noticed what looked like smoke coming from the mailbox. Fleming found a bottle inside and called police.

"We were lucky we found it in the morning," she said. "All it did was eat the paint off the mailbox."

Charlotte and Jim Johnson were sitting on their lanai on Maracaibo Street in Port Charlotte Wednesday night when they heard a car with a loud muffler, followed by a sound like "a car backfiring," Charlotte said.

She went outside and saw her mailbox had exploded.

"My husband saw (the suspects) come back to see what they had done," she said.

He saw a small car but couldn't see how many people were in it, she said.

Thursday's first bomb was found on Goldcoast Avenue, where Nathan Dolson saw his mailbox smoking and prodded the bottle out with a stick.

Other bombs were reportedly placed in mailboxes on Villa Street, Cherry Avenue and Dolman Court.

Charlotte County Fire & EMS sent a hazardous-materials team to handle three bombs found Thursday, according to department spokeswoman Dee Hawkins. Firefighters poured water into the bottles to dilute the acid, she said.

Destroying a mailbox is a federal offense punishable by fines and up to three years in prison. Detonating any kind of bomb is a third-degree felony.

Ogden said residents with street mailboxes should use caution if they see anything suspicious in or around the boxes.

Anyone having information that may help solve this case can call the CCSO "Tips line" at (941) 637-TIPS (8477) or Crimestoppers at (800) 780-TIPS (8477).


By GARRY OVERBEY

Staff Writer