Military ordnance brought to Bluffton police station Navy projectiles

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comDecember 10, 2013 

STAFF ILLUSTRATION

Most local law enforcement offices gladly accept unwanted guns and ammunition.

But when someone drops a bomb on them, well, that calls for heavy artillery.

Two U.S. Navy 5-inch projectiles that a man tried to turn in to the Bluffton Police Department -- prompting a five-hour shutdown Monday of the surrounding area while authorities disposed of the ordnance -- are being stored at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and will be destroyed.

"They'll dispose of it," said Sgt. Marcy Sanchez of the air station. "Pretty much make it explode."

The man who brought the explosive device to the police station said it had been in his family for years and had been brought down from New York, according to Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner of the Bluffton Police Department. The man has not identified by police.

MCAS Beaufort's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team has been called in several times over the past decade to handle potentially dangerous explosives. For example, in 2007 it helped remove a Civil War-era hand grenade found underneath a Beaufort house. Live military flares have twice been found on Hilton Head Island beaches in the past 10 years, requiring ordnance disposal team intervention -- once in 2003 and again in 2009.

The ordnance involved in Monday's incident was a pair of U.S. Navy projectiles, likely intended for use on destroyers and other Navy ships, an air station spokesman said Tuesday.

Historian Stephen Wise, curator of the museum on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, said the U.S. Navy has armed ships with 5-inch guns as far back as World War I. Wise said World War II-era U.S. Navy destroyers also used 5-inch guns as their main weapons, with larger ships, such as cruisers, using them as secondary guns.

"They're very heavy," Wise said. "It's a pretty substantial item."

Sanchez did not say how old the projectiles were, but a Bluffton Police Department release Monday said the projectiles dated at least to World War II and could possibly to World War I.

The projectiles were brought to the station at about 9 a.m. The objects remained in the man's vehicle, and police sealed off the area, including access to a nearby shopping center. Bluffton Township Fire District and Beaufort County EMS vehicles were positioned at a bowling alley a few hundred yards from the station.

The Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team then arrived and removed the projectiles.

Sanchez said people who want to dispose of military explosives, including Civil War-era ordnance, should contact local authorities or the air station's Provost Marshal's Office for instructions.

Cases involving possible explosives, as with Monday's incident, require special intervention. However, disposal of other items creates much less of a stir -- Bluffton police and other agencies in Beaufort County accept old ammunition and firearms, for example.

Bluffton police accept old guns, ammunition and fireworks, McCall-Tanner said, and it can be dropped off during normal business hours at the department's headquarters on Progressive Street.

McCall-Tanner advised calling ahead so police can prepare for the delivery and provide safety precautions, like checking that guns are unloaded before delivery. It is illegal to bring weapons -- even ones with concealed carry permits -- into police stations, punishable by fines over $1,000 and up to a year in prison, according to S.C. state law.

The Beaufort Police Department also accepts old ammunition and guns for disposal, according to spokeswoman Cpl. Hope Able. The Port Royal Police Department accepts old ammunition and guns for disposal as well, Sgt. Scott O'Neal said.

But neither of three departments can handle military ordnance or explosive devices -- those require intervention from bomb squads or ordnance disposal teams.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office also accepts ammunition and guns for disposal, spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said. McIntosh said the Sheriff's Office also holds occasional "amnesty days," when people can turn in weapons, ammunition, fireworks and explosives to be destroyed with no questions asked.McIntosh said people trying to dispose of ammunition or weapons should call the Sheriff's Office. Deputies will help collect ammunition and weapons to prevent injuries caused by improper storage or handling, she said.

Staff writer Rebecca Lurye contributed to this report. Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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