A volunteer on a road-cleaning crew along the Imnaha Highway northwest of Joseph on Saturday found two suspicious-looking devices, which police later confirmed were pipe bombs. The explosive devices were disabled that day by members of the Oregon State Police bomb squad.
Sheriff Fred Steen described the devices as "two, six-inch long tubes wrapped in duct tape with fuses in them." On Monday, bomb technicians confirmed the devices were explosives and could have detonated, according to Steen.
How long the pipe bombs remained along the highway and their creator remained a mystery. Local and state police continue to investigate.
News that the devices were explosives came as a shock to Alfred Habegger of Flora. He was part of a National Democratic Party volunteer road crew picking up trash and debris along the highway when he spotted the two strange-looking devices on a grassy verge.
Habegger put the devices in his garbage bag before showing them to another member of the cleaning crew. That person advised Habegger not to carry them and the two men carefully put the devices back in the grass and marked the spot with a stone before continuing their cleaning.
Habegger, who does not have a cell phone, did not report the finding until after the crew was done cleaning along the highway. He then drove to Enterprise and reported his discovery to Officer Michelle Blocker of Enterprise Police Department.
Sheriff's deputy Eric Kozowski immediately rushed to the site and found, as feared from Habegger's description, what appeared to be two pipe bombs. The Sheriff's Office immediately notified the state bomb squad in Pendleton.
Bomb squad personnel did not initially release information on whether or not the devices would have exploded, Steen said, and only suggested that the contents appeared to be commercial fireworks. However, by Monday afternoon the bomb tech released the information that the devices were explosive and could have detonated.
The location of the devices contributed to the mystery of possible motive for creation of the bombs. The good news is that the devices were not placed or discarded in an area where damage to others was likely, nor were any threats received, said Steen.
The bomb squad and law enforcement officials normally do not release either photos of or specific information about explosive devices for the safety of bomb personnel and the public, according to Oregon State Police public information officer Gregg Hastings. "We will tell media if the device is a hoax," he said.
Habegger said he was astonished at the news that he might have been inadvertently carrying explosives while cleaning the highway. "I had no idea these were explosive devices," he said. "I was willing to assume they might be dangerous."