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Frazier science project a blast

| Friday, Nov. 4, 2005

PERRYOPOLIS -...A suspicious-looking device left inside a drug store Thursday brought the Allegheny County Bomb Squad to the normally-quiet borough.

About three hours after the device was found in the Perry Drug Store along Washington Square, the center of town, officials were able to breathe easy. But somewhere in town, an eighth-grader might be lamenting the loss of his science project.

Local police and bomb squad officers took no chances with the device, composed of about three feet of half-inch metal pipe, a battery, wires, rope and an electrical switch. They imploded it behind the drug store, using a remote-controlled vehicle with a robotic arm.

"An electromagnetic fishing pole," said Sgt. Robert Clark of the bomb squad, holding up the contraption with the battery blown off. "It's an eighth-grade science project."

Had Jim Shahan, owner of Perry's Pizza Shop a few doors down from the drug store, seen the device first, he could have spared everyone some excitement.

"I just helped make one for my daughter," Shahan said, smiling. "I said, 'Does it have this, this and this?' They said, 'Yeah.'"

Tiffany Burton, a Frazier High School sophomore, said the science project is something that eighth-graders do every year.

"You have to make it so it can pick up metal paper clips, but you can't use magnets," she said.

As an afterthought, she added, "I hated that project."

Leonard "Skip" Pirilla, owner of the drug store his father founded in 1941, said one of his clerks found the device about 4:30 p.m. It was about a half-hour past the time that students descend on the store after school.

Perryopolis police Chief Roger Beadling said the device was located near the greeting cards display.

Pirilla was home when one of the clerks, Laurie Harris, called to ask if he left something at the store.

"It looked ominous from what they told me," Pirilla said. "They said it had wires and a battery connected to it."

He said one of the employees already had taken the device outside to the driveway behind the corner store, along the Liberty Street side. Pirilla told them to call the police and get out of the store.

Beadling said he got within about six feet of the device, but it was close enough for him to decide that he wasn't going to take any chances.

"It had everything on it that, if it was a bomb, it would have on it," police Capt. Steve Kontraxes said.

"It definitely appeared to be some kind of explosive device, and we had to take every precaution," Beadling said.

The bomb squad arrived and sent its remote unit to examine the item.

They maneuvered the robotic unit around, then had police move the crowd of about 60 spectators back farther. About 7:20 p.m., a small explosion echoed through the square, and then the disposal crew went over to the device.

Although the town was stirred up for a while, Beadling was thankful that it turned out to be a false alarm.

"It created a lot of havoc, but it's kind of a shame," he said. "It's a sign of the times we live in."

With at least a touch of wry humor, he added, "Maybe this will be the last year they do that project."

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