- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

A Woodbridge man claiming he had explosives in his van yesterday froze traffic around the Agriculture Department for about two hours during the morning rush hour and forced 7,000 workers to evacuate two of the department's buildings.
Shortly after 8 a.m., the Federal Protective Service officer saw the man screaming and acting strangely in the middle of the 1200 block of Independence Avenue SW, placed him in a patrol car and sought medical attention, said Viki Reath, a spokeswoman for General Services Administration.
The 38-year-old man told the officer "the truck is going to blow up," referring to his Budget rental van parked on Independence Avenue in front of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Ms. Reath, adding that the officer requested additional police assistance.
Bomb-sniffing dogs from D.C. police and the Federal Protection Service responded, Ms. Reath said.
Police later determined that the van and its contents were safe. The investigation determined that the man has a history of mental illness.
"Basically, he said something to the effect of wanting to meet the president and then he later made a statement to the effect of he had explosives in the truck," said Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman.
The man was not charged last night, Sgt. Gentile said. The U.S. Attorney's Office is expected to resume screening the case this morning.
Police closed Independence Avenue from Eighth to 14th streets and the 14th Street Bridge as a safety precaution, Sgt. Gentile said.
Police requested that Metro close entrances and exits at Smithsonian subway station, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. Trains bypassed the Smithsonian stop until the station reopened.
About 7,000 USDA employees were evacuated from the South Building and the Administration Building, Ms. Reath said.
The D.C. police bomb squad cut the lock on the van and found a suspicious suitcase and briefcase inside, Sgt. Gentile said. They were blown open with a water cannon and found to contain personal items.
The unidentified man was committed to the George Washington Hospital for mental observation, Sgt. Gentile said. The van was taken into evidence by the FBI, Ms. Reath said.
Among those caught in yesterday's gridlock were two U.S. Supreme Court justices commuting separately from their Virginia homes to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of listing sex offenders on the Internet.
Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia joined the other seven justices 35 and 40 minutes into the two-hour hearing, while court was in session. Both have access to written transcripts and audio tapes of the arguments made in their absence.
The incident ended shortly after 10 a.m., when all employees were permitted to return to work.
Frank J. Murray contributed to this report.

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