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Bomb squad dispatches suspicious box at mall

MEDFORD — A suspicious box believed to be a bomb temporarily disrupted shopping Saturday at the Rogue Valley Mall.

A concerned caller phoned Medford police around noon to report that a large box, which was wrapped in duct tape, was leaning against an outer wall near JC Penney beside a cargo door facing Interstate 5.

Officers, along with mall security, quickly cleared the parking lot and roped off the area to wait for Oregon State Police bomb squad technicians, Medford Master Police Officer Scott Clauson said.

"We found it odd the box was leaning against the building," Clauson said. "We don't take any chances."

OSP bomb squad troopers arrived from Central Point with their bomb robot. The robot approached the box and destroyed it with a blast from a powerful water cannon, Clauson said.

It turns out the box was full of more cardboard boxes and nothing more, Clauson said.

Police are not taking any chances when it comes to unattended packages in the wake of an explosion in a Woodburn bank earlier this month that killed as OSP trooper and a police chief. The officers believed the bomb was fake when they took it inside the West Coast Bank, where it exploded.

Officers on the scene Saturday determined it would not be necessary to evacuate the mall as they dealt with the suspicious box, Clauson said.

"It was far enough away from the glass doors at JC Penney and we were more concerned with people in the parking lot walking to and from their cars," Clauson said.

Shoppers were allowed to reach their cars after the robot destroyed the box. The incident lasted close to two hours, Clauson said.

"Had we found a strange box like that inside, we would have evacuated the mall," he added.

Clauson was thankful the bomb robot was available in Central Point to defuse the situation within a couple of hours. Being one of the few OSP bomb robots in the state means the robot is often hours away and must be transported to a scene.

Last year, a hoax pipe bomb found on the Abraham Lincoln statue in Ashland's Lithia Park forced an evacuation of the park and the entire downtown area.

OSP bomb squad officials said they respond to around 300 bomb reports in Southern Oregon per year. The majority of claims are false, though Clauson said each one is treated as if it were real until proven otherwise.

"We were just glad to get this taken care of safely," he said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.