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Shadyside pack held stolen pyrotechnics

| Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, 12:53 a.m.

A suspicious package that shut down a Shadyside business district this summer was a stolen pyrotechnics device, Pittsburgh police said this week.

“There was cause for concern,” said Detective Dave Tritinger, a member of the city police bomb squad. “If pyrotechnics were hooked up to it, it would've been bad.”

The device had a sticker labeled “explosive” and was in a backpack on Ellsworth Avenue in July. The discovery prompted a three-hour street closure. Detectives likened the device to the lighter used to light a candle wick, something that could set off a firework.

“It was stuff you wouldn't normally see lying around in a backpack,” Detective Jim Darcy said.

The incident was one of 50 the city bomb squad responded to this year, up from 39 total in 2011, Sgt. Matthew Gauntner said.

He cited several possible reasons for the increase, including heightened awareness of suspicious items left on streets and people finding old grenades in basements. The numbers do not include the rash of bomb threats last spring at the University of Pittsburgh, because the squad did not respond to those.

The city did not say how many of the items they investigated were explosive like the Shadyside device.

Investigators reviewed surveillance footage, tracked down the labeling on item and examined fingerprints. A name on the backpack led them to a “person of interest,” whom detectives would not identify.

“Usually, a trail will lead you somewhere,” Darcy said.

The man told them he works in pyrotechnics and does special effects, and believed the backpack was stolen from his car while it was parked in a lot in the Shadyside area, Darcy said.

“We're assuming the person looked at (the device) and thought, ‘I don't want this stuff' (and ditched the backpack),” Darcy said, adding that he reviewed surveillance footage that helped back up the man's story. “What he said made sense.”

Tritinger contacted the vendors who supply the man with his pyrotechnics gear, and they helped confirm the story, he said.

“We feel pretty confident this gentleman is truthful,” Darcy said.

Even though the bomb squad has been busier than usual this year, the detectives worked the case for about a month before closing it.

“In the end, if nothing more, it's good practice,” Darcy said.

David Feldstein, owner of the Bagel Factory on Ellsworth Avenue, closed his shop early when someone found a second suspicious package in the area the same week in July. That turned out to be a scale. Feldstein said he was skeptical of the story behind the stolen pyrotechnics device.

“It sounds a little odd,” Feldstein said. “But no one is hurt, and everybody is safe. You take it for what it's worth and let it go.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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