The Orange County Sheriff’s Bomb Squad determined Tuesday that the suspicious device found in a car parked in a Fullerton shopping center was nothing more than an aerosol can wrapped in wires.
“They removed the canister. It has been ruled as inert, so it is not a bomb,” said Fullerton Police Sgt. Jeff Stuart. “At this point, they think it is a hoax.”
Fullerton police created a 330-foot perimeter, evacuating the majority of the College Plaza shopping center on the southeast corner of Chapman Avenue and State College Boulevard, as well as some residences, after a University Police officer noticed the suspicious vehicle at about 11:30 a.m.
The car’s owner, a male Fullerton resident, was arrested by police and is being held for a 72-hour psychological evaluation, Stuart said.
“They’re not sure of his mental capacity or what his condition was, or why he did that. That’s why he’s being questioned at this point,” he said.
The battered ‘96 Chevrolet Cavalier was found behind Thai Rama BBQ. The car’s driver door held open with a plastic tube wrapped in a thick, black cable. The car also had a steering wheel lock in place and was covered in trash and graffiti. The device was found in the back seat, police said.
Some civilian witnesses said the device was attached to the outside of the car.
Paramedics and fire personnel from various departments clustered around an incident command center set up about 200 feet from the car.
The bomb squad assumed control of the scene, which is standard practice for situations of this nature, Stuart said, while Fullerton and University Police Departments guarded the perimeter.
The bomb squad mobilized a bomb disposal robot, which may have been used to extract the device from the car.
At around 2:30 p.m., the bomb squad determined that the device was not a bomb. Police, paramedics and fire personnel left the area after a half hour.
Police took the device away in a large paper bag.
Stuart said officers swept through all buildings within the evacuation area.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Del Taco, though in the same shopping center, fell just outside the perimeter and were not evacuated.
Some of the displaced residents waited just outside the police perimeter for confirmation that they could return to their cars, homes and businesses.
Mohammad Jaffrey, a public relations major at Cal State Fullerton, said the police perimeter prevented him from getting to his car and meeting up with his friends for lunch.
“I can’t even get down the street,” said Jaffrey.
Tony Valdoviros, an Anaheim resident and cashier at the 99 Cents Only Store, described the events as “crazy.”
“You’ve got Bank of America running away, you’ve got Big Lots running away … all of a sudden you see helicopters, ambulances (and) four TV camera people taking film and everything,” said Valdoviros. “At Fullerton, you never see that … somewhere else, but not Fullerton.”
Chris Youngbauer, an employee at Round Table Pizza, which was evacuated, said he and a co-worker were taking a break outside when they first noticed the car.
“Me and my coworker saw it pull up. We didn’t think anything of it. We kind of laughed; it was making junker noises,” said Youngbauer.
He said police asked them about the vehicle about an hour and a half later.
“Twenty minutes later we had to evacuate the store,” Youngbauer said.
Annie Miller, another Round Table Pizza employee, said she first saw the car at around 10:30 a.m.
“I was pulling my car up into the back lot, and as I’m looking around to see if cars are coming … I do a double-take and see this junker car with a bunch of crap on it,” said Miller.
Stuart said the first priority for emergency personnel was public safety, which is why the perimeter around the scene was so large.
“One of the things they teach you in this job is (that) if you can see (a bomb), it can see you,” Stuart said.