More than five dozen guests were evacuated from a motel northeast of Atlantic early Sunday morning after a suicidal man allegedly threatened to detonate a bomb. The incident happened at about 1:30 a.m., at the American Best Value Inn located about a mile south of Interstate 80 and just west of Highway 71.
Jack and Sherry Skinner, from Spencer, were staying at the motel while visiting friends in the area. Jack Skinner first became aware something was wrong when he heard a commotion in the hallway outside of his room.
“I woke up and I laid there for a minute and I noticed I heard a couple of people talking and then a couple of people just getting more and more and more and I’m like: ‘What’s going on out there?’ It’s like four in the morning!’ and I opened the door and I noticed a multitude of people just sitting there in pajamas and no shoes,” and I said, ‘Is there a fire?” and they said, ‘No, the police came and (told) us to sit out here so we’re having a party,’ and (I said): ‘Oh, yeah, sure,’ so I closed the door and went back to sleep and that’s when an officer opened the door and said, ‘We need you to come outside,'” Skinner said. “He was real polite about it.”
Skinner, his wife and about 63 other hotel guests were loaded onto two Atlantic Community School District buses and taken to the Super 8 Motel in Atlantic. Skinner said everyone was pleased with how things turned out and the professionalism of everyone involved in ensuring their safety. All of the guests were brought back to the motel about five hours later, once the area was deemed safe.
John Ticer, a Special Agent with the State Fire Marshal’s office arrived on the scene at around 3:30 a.m., followed shortly thereafter by two bomb technicians equipped with a remote control robot from Des Moines, and outfitted with protective, bomb-disposal suits. Ticer says a Lexus sedan with South Carolina license plates, believed to belong to the suspect, was breached and searched for explosives, but it took some time to gain entry into the car.
“Once the robot gets here it takes a little bit of time to get the robot set up and functioning,” Ticer says. “And then we ran into a problem that not only were the doors locked on the vehicle, but the guy had also set the alarm, so even when we tried to unlock the doors, the doors would automatically relock due to the alarm set-up so it did take quite a bit of time…and eventually we got the keys for the vehicle…and then the robot started pulling things out of the backside.”
Ticer said while they’re glad the incident proved to be a hoax, it was an expensive and disruptive event. “We just look at the monetary loss here alone in the equipment that was used, the manpower that was out here…we just roughly guess that this was something like $10,000 wrapped up in this whole operation here,” Ticer says.
The unidentified suspect in the case was arrested and taken to the Cass County Jail.
“It’s unfortunate that an individual like this, you know, whether he was thinking it was funny or whatever else was going through his mind at the time, it’s not funny. It’s not a joke,” Ticer says. “We deal with this all the time with the schools. This one was a little bit more serious being it was an occupied hotel with people sleeping in it and also with it being a potential vehicle-borne explosive device…witha vehicle, vehicles can hold a substantial amount of explosives and until we knew different, we had to treat it as a serious situation.”
Authorities this morning said the California man had either dropped out or was kicked out of Clemson University in South Carolina, but they’re still not releasing his name.
(On the scene reporting from Ric Hanson of KJAN in Atlantic.)