Dud bombs and missing keys

| May 12, 2005

Murphy’s Law is clear and nonnegotiable: If anything can go wrong, it will. And MacGillicuddy’s Corollary applies: It will go wrong at the most inopportune time. That’s why you only lock your keys in the car when you’re in a rush. It’s also why, on Tuesday, when the Missoula Explosive Ordnance Device (EOD) Team was poised to use its remote-controlled robot to dismantle a suspicious package left behind during an armed robbery at Mountain West Bank on East Broadway, the keys to the robot’s control panel were nowhere to be found. What are the odds that the EOD Team would get an emergency call when they were across town in a warehouse, having just taken apart all the gear for a routine check? And how about the odds that one critical key—the one to access the firing mechanism for the robot’s explosive-disabling water cannon—would get left behind? Too good, it turns out.

One of the police officers standing near the scene explained: “It’s a Murphy’s Law kind of thing.” After the delay—and zipping across town through afternoon traffic to grab that key must have been fun—the dismantling went off without a hitch. Sgt. Scott Hoffman, who was in charge at the scene, says the package contained no explosive device after all, and late Tuesday afternoon police were still collecting evidence from the scene and searching for a suspect.

At 11:20 Tuesday morning, Hoffman says, a middle-aged white man wearing black clothes and a black baseball hat walked into the bank, put a package on the counter and told the teller he’d blow her up if she didn’t give him all the money. Then he opened his coat and flashed a handgun, so the teller gave him the money and called 911 after he bolted out the door. The man was last seen heading east on Broadway on foot with an undisclosed amount of money.

The robot—when all its keys are accounted for—makes it much safer for police to handle potentially dangerous objects. “Before this, there would have been guys going in and picking [the package] up,” Hoffman says, adding that Missoula’s joint city/county EOD Team trains once a week for situations just like this one.

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