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Suspicious briefcase blown up outside Brooksville business

BROOKSVILLE — Authorities detonated a suspicious package outside the PetLuv store on Broad Street Thursday morning, forcing neighboring businesses to close for several hours.

Employees spotted a light brown briefcase partially hidden behind a yellow trash can outside the store about 8 a.m. and called the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, said store manager Cathy Fitzgerald.

"It's very bizarre," she said. "The only thing we usually get dropped off are stray cats."

Several agencies, including the state Fire Marshal's Office in Tampa and the Tampa Bay regional bomb squad, responded. Using a camera-equipped, six-wheeled robotic device nicknamed "Boots," officials exploded the briefcase when they were unable to open it.

"When they finally blasted it, and they did blast it," Fitzgerald said, "they just found briefcase stuff inside it."

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cinda Moore confirmed that the contents were not dangerous. She said authorities will continue to investigate whether someone left the briefcase outside the shop as a hoax.

The incident was the third bomb scare in Brooksville since October, when officials blew up a suspicious package at the Hernando County Government Center and a week later destroyed another outside a Sears on Cortez Boulevard.

Capt. Brandon Ball, a bomb technician with the State Fire Marshal, said he encounters about two similar events in the region each week. In all, five bomb technicians were called to the scene.

Jason Holt, owner of Happy Tails Pet Supply Outlet next door to PetLuv, said he noticed the briefcase last night while sweeping the sidewalk but didn't find it odd at the time. His shop was among those evacuated this morning.

"Better to err on the side of caution," he said, as he ate a cheeseburger in a nearby parking lot and waited for authorities to allow him back to work. "I do appreciate them being safe. It's just overkill."

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@sptimes.com.

Suspicious briefcase blown up outside Brooksville business 01/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 6:45pm]

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