Incendiary Device Found at Pennsylvania Medical Building

March 8, 2006
Device was designed to start fire at medical building currently in renovation

An incendiary device rigged to ignite was found Monday at a Robinson medical building under renovation, forcing the evacuation of a church-run day care center.

A construction worker called Robinson police about 7:30 a.m. after noticing a suspicious odor upon arriving for work at the vacant Robinson Medical Center in the 100 block of Church Hill Road. Police responded and called in the Allegheny County bomb squad; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and the county fire marshal. The device was found, disabled and sent to the county fire marshal's lab for analysis.

Initial reports were that blasting caps had been attached to the building's walls, but the suspected caps turned out to be fireworks, attached by wires to a power source intended to ignite gasoline inside the building, county police said.

Construction crews working on renovating the medical center had last been in the structure on Saturday, Robinson police Chief Dale Vietmeier said.

RMPD LLC, of Mt. Lebanon, bought the center in December for $1.45 million from Standard Property Corp., Downtown.

Police found the incendiary device inside and outside the building, Vietmeier said. He declined to elaborate.

Officials still are trying to identify the device and why it did not work, said John Hageman, special agent with ATF.

"What we are looking at is someone who attempted to bring destruction to that building," Hageman said.

RMPD has hired a private security company, and Robinson police are increasing patrols in the area.

Authorities are interviewing building owners as a routine part of their investigation, Hageman said.

"I really don't have any comment on the situation other than to say the authorities are handling it and doing an excellent job," RMPD partner James Genstein said.

Asked if he had anything to do with the crime, Genstein laughed and said: "No, I didn't have anything to do with the problem or what's going on other than we're taking steps to protect the property."

The property sits on a hill, within view of the Robinson police department.

Thirty-one children at the neighboring Union Presbyterian Church day care center on Steubenville Pike, at the opposite end of an abutting property, were evacuated to a church school about a mile away, Vietmeier said. Their parents picked them up.

Residents in two homes on Church Hill Road near the building initially were told they would have to evacuate as well, but later were told it would not be necessary.

"I could have cared less," Loretta Zackowski said. "My husband just had open heart surgery and I had to get to the hospital."

She was concerned with moving her 90-year-old mother-in-law, who lives with them and cannot go up and down steps. Robinson emergency officials had an ambulance standing by to evacuate her mother-in-law if necessary, she said.

Zackowski said the possibility of an explosion did not frighten her.

"I wasn't nervous at all. If that building blows, what's the worst that could happen? I'd hear a noise," she said.

The building had been vacant since sometime last year, she said.