Originally created 07/23/98

Package creates scare in Aiken



AIKEN -- Nitro, a four-year-old explosives-sniffing canine, proved Wednesday he knows the difference between a bomb and a thank you gift from a grateful Lexus dealership in Columbia.

And Aiken police felt nothing but relief that a fleeting suspicion that an anti-abortion group might have targeted a local obstetrician was unfounded. The "bomb" turned out to be a basket of eatable goodies from the car dealership to Dr. Lloyd Daniels. The dealership appreciated his recent car purchase.

"It's better to play it safe and check these things out," said Capt. Pete Frommer of the Aiken Department of Public Safety.

As soon as Dr. Daniels' wife Connie notified police at about 11:15 a.m., the Aiken post office building and parking lot on Laurens Street were evacuated. Yellow crime tape went up, and roadblocks restricted traffic flow to a safe distance.

Unusual circumstances set off alarm bells for Mrs. Daniels when she noticed as she left the post office that the package had no return address. Peeking inside, all she saw was what looked to be a black bow. Not a good sign, she thought.

She dropped the package under a tree on the sidewalk and crossed the street.

Within the past few days, area doctors were alerted to a bomb scare at an abortion clinic in Charleston, Mrs. Daniels said.

The calls come into doctors routinely after such scares, she said.

"We don't run that kind of business," Mrs. Daniels said. But, "I'd rather be safe than sorry."

On his first walk past the cardboard box, Nitro hardly gave it a glance. It was a signal to Officer Wade Sumner that probably the box held no explosives.

To be sure, the Wackenhut security officer doubled back so Nitro could get a second up-close sniff and look-see. Again, with two years of bomb sniffing experience under his Belgian malinois' pelt, Nitro showed no concern.

"If he doesn't show any indication, I feel confident in his response or in this case his lack of response," Officer Sumner said.

Sure enough when an officer with the State Law Enforcement Division showed up at the post office to review the situation and blow up the package for that extra measure of security, Nitro proved to know his stuff. The post office reopened at 1:20 p.m.

Mrs. Daniels proved to be right about the black bow.

Before the package was demolished in the staged explosion, the bow -- in the trademark black of Lexus -- was tied around the handle of a basket stuffed with black crinkly paper grass. At one time, nestled in the grass was a tin of butter pecan biscuits, a black Lexus coffee mug, and a bottle of cider "champagne."

Surprisingly, some of the gifts appeared to survive intact. The box was history.