Man delivers live mortar shell to NA police
Officer D.L. Goldinger said he was about to begin patrolling yesterday morning when, out of the blue, an unidentified man walked in to the borough office carrying a mortar round.
“He said he'd talked with (Chief) Jack (Wilmot) about a year ago. He handed it to me and walked away,” Goldinger said. “I guess I had my mouth open for a moment.”
That was at 9:30 a.m. About four hours later, bomb-disposal soldiers would determine the mortar was live and dangerous.
Goldinger had guessed as much hours earlier.
The round appeared to have a fuse and wires in the nose at one end and the fin at the other.
“I was holding this thing, and I started to look around for a safe place to put it,” he said.
There were few choices in the small, whitewashed concrete-block borough office. Then his eyes riveted on the bathroom door.
The bathroom has a cement block wall and rows of filing cabinets on one side and the furnace and a block wall on the other side.
The building next door is a bar that has a vacant room closest to the borough building's bathroom. “It was the best I could do,” he said.
Goldinger said it took him about four minutes to gingerly carry the round to the bathroom only about 6 feet away and carefully lay it on the floor.
“I was careful,” he said. “Very careful.”
He took several digital photos of the mortar round and then dialed the Army Bomb Disposal Unit at Fort Indiantown Gap near Harrisburg. He had the phone number because about four years ago police had to call the soldiers to take care of a pipe bomb that officers found.
“I didn't evacuate the neighborhood because it seemed safe as long as it wasn't moved,” he said. He believed that the two wires in the shell were like the pin in a grenade.
Carol Dunmire, who manages Ozzie's Bar next door, said Goldinger told her about the explosive.
“I told him, ‘You're kidding.' And he said no, but we were OK,” she said.
After driving about 250 miles to get to North Apollo, two Army bomb specialists parked their truck in front of the borough building.
The bomb experts used a laptop computer to get information about the mortar round, which included the barely legible “AMM Company” painted on the rusty casing.
The soldiers determined that it was a Vietnam War era 60mm mortar round. The shell is fired from a tube and has about a 2-mile range, according to the Army.
“This is definitely live and dangerous,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Rogers, who returned from a stint in Iraq last Christmas. “We'll go somewhere to blow this up.”
Such calls are more frequent than one might think.
“We get about two calls like this a week,” said Rogers' partner, Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver. The soldiers handle most of the state except for eastern areas closer to bases in New Jersey.
However, Cleaver said that encountering this particular type of mortar shell is unusual.
It was not known last night where the mortar round came from.
Goldinger doesn't know the name of the man who delivered it.
“The man said it was in his friend's basement and then he died,” the officer said. Then the man said he kept it in his own basement.
“I know he's from the North Apollo area, but that's it,” the officer said.
Wilmot said in a phone interview last night that the man he suspected of taking the mortar shell to the police station wasn't the right guy.
The chief wouldn't release the name of the man who he thought dropped off the mortar shell, saying the man denied being involved.
Wilmot paid a visit to that man's house last night. The chief described the man as a senior citizen and said the man didn't want his name released.
Wilmot said police will continue to investigate the case.
“We'll find out who it was,” the chief said, adding that that person most likely won't face charges.
“Still, I'm glad he brought it here rather than take it elsewhere,” Goldinger said yesterday afternoon.
Goldinger advised anyone who encounters an explosive to call 911 and keep away from it.
By 3:15 p.m., the bomb disposal truck followed Goldinger's police car up Glorietta Hill Road in Kiski Township. The bomb was taken to a wooded spot away from houses and people and detonated.
Residents of Lower Mateer Road in Parks called Armstrong County 911 when they heard the explosion.
“Yes, it was very loud,” Goldinger said.
“I've had some bomb classes and they always tell you to leave it alone. Don't move it,” Goldinger said. “Then this guy comes in and hands one to me.
“You never know.”
Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for the Valley News Dispatch, Tarentum