By Chad Frey
A truck driver called 911 Monday night, reporting a bomb threat. That led to stretch Interstate Highway 135 to be closed, and an expensive four-hour investigation.
"We shut the interstate down at about 10:30 p.m. and it stayed shut until about 2:30 a.m.," said Sheriff T. Walton. "That is a long time. That takes a lot of manpower, not only to get the road shut down but to also get traffic rerouted."
The Interstate was closed between North Newton and Hesston while law enforcement, including a bomb squad from Wichita, searched the truck for explosives.
None were found.
"He thought he had something on the truck," Walton said.
According to the Harvey County Sheriff's office, the saga began at about 7:45 p.m. when Harvey County 911 received a call from a truck driver reporting he had gotten a call on his cell phone. The caller told the truck driver he had an explosive hooked to his truck. The driver was somewhat confused to his location, believing he had just gotten off I-135 and was now on I-70. It was later determined he was on the shoulder of the northbound lane on I-135 at mile post 35 — just north of North Newton.
Harvey County Deputies met with the driver and were told there was a suspicious box in the cab of the truck. The semi was hauling merchandise for Hobby Lobby. The driver was an independent contractor.
Traffic was rerouted using K-15 and Dutch Avenue — northbound traffic exited the Interstate at exit 34, then was routed north on K-15 to Dutch Ave. At Dutch Ave. traffic was routed west to Hesston, where vehicles could again take the Interstate.
"There were a lot of resources brought in," Walton said. "(The Kansas Department of Transportation) was out there and Harvey County Road and Bridge was there to provide signage. … When this started, there were only two deputies on duty and one highway patrol officer who wasn't there yet, and he wanted to shut the interstate down. I said I couldn't shut it down until we brought more people. We brought in everyone we could and called other agencies."
Agencies responding to the call included Kansas Highway Patrol, the Newton Police Department, Hesston Police Department, Hesston Fire and Rescue, KDOT, Harvey County Road and Bridge, Harvey County Communications and Harvey County Sheriff’s Office.
"He did cost us a lot of money, but he really believed there was a bomb on the truck," Walton said. "We have to err on the side of caution. You don't want to be driving down the interstate and have a truck blow up next to you."
Walton did not have an estimate of the expenses associated with the incident. Walton said no criminal charges have been filed.