Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chaotic night in Gastonia ends with no bomb on bus, no charges for passengers, some detained as illegal immigrants (Gaston Gazette)

May 18, 2008 - 9:14AM

Police detained a charter-type bus for more than eight hours, blocking an I-85 South exit ramp at Cox Road until almost dawn Sunday.

No criminal charges were filed against any of the 17 people on board, although some were detained for apparent immigration violations. The number of those detained was not immediately available from either the Sheriff's Office nor Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Many of those on the "La Cubana" bus were Spanish speaking, said Gastonia Police Sgt. E.D. Brice.

The incident began around 11 p.m. Saturday and the bus left the Gaston County Sheriff's Office at 7:45 a.m. More than a dozen law enforcement cars - from state Highway Patrol, Gastonia Police, the Sheriff's Office and others - kept the bus surrounded at I-85 exit 21 from around 11:10 p.m. Saturday until 4:50 a.m. Sunday.

Police were following up on a tip that there was a suspicious package on the bus, possibly a bomb, said Brice.

Police called out a bomb dog, and police had passengers and luggage taken from the bus, but the dog did not find an explosive.

"During the search, the dog did hit on a package," Brice said.

Vice Detective Eric Starling declined to say what was in the package saying it was part of an ongoing investigation.

Passengers on the bus were traveling from New York to Florida, said 20-year-old passenger Natalie Hernandez, who said she lived with her parents in New York and attended night school. She said she was a native of Colombia.

The bus left New York Saturday and was supposed to arrive in Florida, with its last stop in Miami around 11 a.m. Sunday, she said.

"A lot of hours we've been on the road," Hernandez said Sunday, moments before the bus left the Sheriff's Office. "They stopped the bus. We really don't know what happened."

She said the wait was long, but that the police treated everyone well.

"They didn't yell at you," she said. "The important thing is everybody treated us good."

Police separated the males from the female passengers, Hernandez said, keeping her separate from both groups because she had her 3-year-old daughter with her, she said.

Brice agreed the night was a confusing one, but also one that had agencies working together.

"A lot of agencies came together and cooperated on what we thought was a suspicious package," Brice said.

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