Multiple agencies called in to investigate suspicious package

A suspicious package at an area rest stop prompted multiple agencies to respond to the scene on Tuesday. When first responders couldn’t determine what was inside, they had to wait hours for a bomb squad to arrive.

The Winona County Sheriff’s Department said someone was filling up their propane tank at the rest stop on Tuesday when they spotted something tucked underneath the tank.

“The suspicious package was kind of like a brown paper bag that had duct tape wrapped around the top of it,” said Jeff Mueller, chief deputy of the Winona County Sheriff’s Department.

First responders were concerned that it could have been an explosive device. Officials could have used a telephoto lens to snap a photo for a closer look, but that wasn’t an option here.

“We weren’t able to because of where it was located, so we flew our drone over it and took pictures of the package,” said Ben Klinger, director of Winona County Emergency Management.

The Winona County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t have a K-9 unit that can detect bomb components, so authorities called in the Rochester Police Department’s K-9 Unit. The dog was unable to definitively say if it was safe to approach or not.

“We kind of moved to the next level of saying, ‘We can’t make a determination as to what this is,'” Mueller said.

They had to call in the St. Paul Police Department’s bomb squad to get an answer.

“That is the closest one to Winona [County] in the state of Minnesota,” Klinger said.

Officials were able to finally see what was inside.

“If you haven’t heard, the bag was full of syringes,” Mueller said.

It took hours to come to this conclusion. Time is one of the biggest challenges of having to call in the bomb squad from the metro area.

“We’d have to have a longer evacuation, and obviously if it is a threat, something could happen,” Klinger said.

But officials said there probably won’t be a bomb squad in its area any time soon because of the resources and money needed. Plus, the St. Paul bomb squad is more than willing to help.

“The cooperation between departments is very helpful in these types of calls, especially when we don’t have the resources on hand to deal with them,” Mueller said.

The St. Paul Police Department’s bomb squad responds to about 200 calls a year. It has robots to dispose of hazardous waste, portable X-ray machines, among other tools to investigate these suspicious items.

Both departments also expressed gratitude for the other departments that responded, including the La Crescent Police and Fire departments, Minnesota State Patrol, Tri-State Ambulance and the Department of Transportation. All of them helped evacuate the area and helped this come to a safe conclusion.

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