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Explosives in Kan. Capitol incident were fireworks

Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Explosives found in a pickup truck parked near the Kansas Capitol earlier this week were illegal homemade fireworks, the state Highway Patrol said Friday, but it still promised to ask the local prosecutor to file criminal charges against the truck’s owner.

The Capitol Police, overseen by the highway patrol, had described several items found in the pickup as “improvised explosive devices,” or homemade bombs. Officers detained the pickup’s owner Wednesday, and authorities questioned him, searched his home and seized items. Ultimately, he was released from custody.

It was one of two incidents involving potential threats to the Statehouse on the same day, but authorities said they were unrelated. In the other incident, a 37-year-old man was arrested and jailed for what the Capitol Police said was a threatening phone call to Gov. Sam Brownback’s office.

The Highway Patrol’s announcement came after Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor met for about 90 minutes with representatives of local, federal and state law enforcement agencies, including the patrol. Authorities aren’t seeking charges in federal court, leaving any potential prosecution of the pickup’s owner to Taylor’s office.

The patrol said its representatives would meet with Taylor next week about possible charges.

“Any suspicious vehicle, we always investigate fully,” said Capitol Police spokesman Patrick Saleh. “We don’t want to ever miss one or ignore one, because that’s when something unthinkable happens.”

Officers found the pickup in the parking lot outside the Kansas Judicial Center, south of the Statehouse. They detained the owner in an underground tunnel that links the Statehouse to a nearby building that houses the offices of state agencies and legislators.

The pickup truck incident and the phoned-in threat to Brownback’s office came the same day a Kansas House committee opened three days of hearings on several bills designed to crack down on illegal immigration. Later, several hundred people rallied outside the Statehouse to protest such policies and others pursued by Brownback and his fellow Republicans. However, authorities said neither incident was connected to the rally.

The truck carried a specialty Florida license plate issued only to qualified U.S. military paratroopers, and it had a special forces sticker on its bumper. The Capitol Police also reported finding an empty gun holster inside.

Saleh wouldn’t provide other details about the explosives found in the pickup after they were described as homemade fireworks, saying the Highway Patrol is “preserving the case for the DA.”

Asked how powerful the explosives were, he said, “That would be entirely speculation on my part.”

But Saleh said Thursday that any potentially dangerous items already had been seized from the man’s home in Topeka. The man has a Florida driver’s license, but Saleh has said authorities don’t think he will flee the area. They have refused to release his name and age, saying they want to protect his right to a fair trial should he be charged.

Kansas law makes it a felony to possess, manufacture or transport “a simulated explosive, destructive device,” but the law does not apply to “consumer” fireworks. A first-time offender can sentenced to up to 19 months in prison, though state sentencing guidelines anticipate probation.

With the other incident this week, the man was arrested on suspicion of telephone harassment, a misdemeanor.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)