Lexington police: Package harmless, but near U.S. Attorney's Office, 'it raises the threat level'

meads@herald-leader.comJune 26, 2013 

A suspicious package found in a mailbox next to the U.S. Attorney's Office caused alarm Wednesday and closed major streets in downtown Lexington for nearly two hours, police said.

A security guard with the U.S. Attorney's Office reported the package to police about 10:20 a.m., Lt. Mark Brand said.

After a hazardous-devices unit inspected the package, which turned out to be a soft-sided briefcase filled with magazines and documents, West Vine Street and South Mill Street were reopened to traffic about noon.

An officer dressed in bomb gear used a robot to retrieve and investigate the briefcase.

"It's not typical to have personal items hanging out in a mailbox, so that is a cause of concern in itself," Lt. Clayton Roberts said. "Because of the location in front of the U.S. Attorney's Office, it causes even more concern, When you start adding things together, it raises the threat level."

The bag did not have anything dangerous inside, said Roberts, who heads the police hazardous-devices unit.

Until the package was cleared, people in nearby buildings were advised to stay inside and away from windows facing the mailbox.

"Obviously, with recent events worldwide, we can't be too careful," Brand said. "We're just trying to make sure people's curiosity doesn't get the best of them."

The briefcase was probably placed in the mailbox about 10:12 a.m., and there was no reason to suspect that it was intended to cause trouble, Roberts said.

"It does not appear that it was malicious," he said.

An investigation will focus on finding the person who placed the bag in the box, and police asked anyone who saw something to call them at (859) 258-3600, Roberts said.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, there were no new leads in the investigation and no tips had been received, said Lexington police Lt. Eric Lowe, the duty commander. There were no security or traffic cameras that could show who put the bag in the box, Lowe said.

The investigation will continue because of the alarm the briefcase caused, Lowe said.

U.S. Postal Service spokesman David Walton said he has never heard of a similar incident.

"Sometimes we get packages that are leaking that we check out, but I've never seen a briefcase in a mailbox like this," Walton said.

Postal inspectors arrived alongside police officers, Walton said.

"The majority of the time, it turns out to be nothing," Walton said. "But it is best to err on the side of caution, especially in this day and age."

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Kyle Edelen said the office had returned to normal by early afternoon.

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