A bomb threat at the South Coast Lumber mill on Carpenterville Road and a suicidal man on Cape Ferrelo tested sheriff’s deputies’ Monday afternoon as they struggled to communicate with each other and dispatchers on a system that hasn’t worked in months.
The bomb threat was received at the mill offices on Center Street, Sheriff John Ward said.
The employee who answered the phone said the threat sounded like a recording, with a female voice not speaking for several seconds after she answered the phone. The caller said three times that there was a bomb in the men’s restroom at the lumber yard just outside of town and then hung up.
The employee had no time to ask any questions before the call was disconnected, he said, and investigators are working with Frontier Communications to trace the call.
Sheriff’s deputies, Brookings police and fire departments and Oregon State Police responded to the call and searched the yard without finding anything suspicious. They also checked the plywood mill on Center Street as a precautionary measure.
Log trucks returning to the mill were detained outside for about an hour while the search was conducted.
“It was basically a bomb threat with no bomb,” Ward said. “It could be somebody very upset with the company. It’s pretty easy to spoof a phone number, put it on a recording and play it.”
He added employees at both sites saw nothing suspicious in the yards leading up to the call, nor anyone entering with packages.
“You have to take everything seriously, because you never know,” Ward said. “You could walk up to it and somebody ends up dead.”
Shortly after that scene was secured, however, the sheriff’s office was summoned at 3 p.m. to a suicidal subject in the Cape Ferrelo area.
The man, a former correctional officer with Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, was distraught that his wife was leaving him, had shot a gun into his yard and aimed it a few times at himself, Ward said.
Deputies, along with a negotiating team from the prison on the phone, spent three hours calming him down. He finally walked down the driveway without his gun and spoke with deputies for about a half-hour before they took him to the hospital to be evaluated, Ward said.
He added that state police offered the services of its SWAT team, as well.
“He wasn’t a danger to anyone else,” Ward said. “He was the only one in the house. He said he wanted to die, but he wanted us to shoot him. We weren’t going to do that.”
Law enforcement was further challenged by the inability to communicate with each other or their dispatch center in Gold Beach.
The Sheriff’s Department has been without radio communications in the South County for a couple of months since microwave equipment and jury-rigged replacement parts have fallen from the towers.
“All this time, we had no communications with our deputies,” Ward said. “We had to run everything through Brookings’ (system). Our dispatch couldn’t hear; we couldn’t hear them. And there were no communications in Cape Ferrelo, either. The only way to talk to someone was cellphone.”
Equipment was being repaired Tuesday and Ward said he hoped it would be temporarily fixed by today (Jan. 30). He has repeatedly asked county commissioners over the years for about $684,000 to replace the aging and failing system, for which parts are no longer available. The current board has declared the situation an emergency. A full replacement of the system will take about four months.
The old analog systems on the three towers in South County have been failing on a regular basis, and the equipment on the tower at Cape Blanco broke down earlier this month.
“We cannot afford to be down with our communications — this is a county emergency,” Ward told commissioners Jan. 16. “We can’t have deputies going to rural areas and not having communications with them.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .