OSP detonates suspicious bags on Lewis & Clark Bridge, suspect faces meth charges

Photo of the suspicious bags hanging from the Lewis and Clark Bridge courtesy Alex Miller

LONGVIEW, Wash. – Troopers arrested a man accused of hanging two backpacks from the Lewis & Clark Bridge on Monday morning, prompting authorities to close the Columbia River crossing between Longview and Rainier for about four hours.

Oregon State Police began receiving reports of bags hanging from the bridge at about 10:30 a.m. Monday. Witnesses told troopers a man tied a couple backpacks to the bridge railing and left them dangling on a rope about 15 feet below the deck. The bags were near a bridge support on the Oregon side.

"Coming up on the bridge there, going to get some parts, I saw a pickup sitting there. An old man was lowering something over the bridge, I didn't even pay attention. Then I came back, trying to get back to the shop, found out there was two backpacks hanging over the bridge," said Ray Nelson.

The U.S. Coast Guard also closed the Columbia River to vessels traveling within 500 yards of the bridge.

"It just kind of looked like something weighted so you can climb down a rope or something, but this day and age you can't be too cautious," said Colby Branstetter, a witness.

OSP's bomb squad was called in to investigate the bags. Troopers say this was out of an abundance of caution.

"It's just hard to come up with a reasonable explanation for why somebody would lower a couple backpacks weighing 50 pounds from a bridge right next to a support structure," said Sgt. Luthur Schwartz, an Oregon State Trooper.

Schwartz says they used their robot to X-ray the bags and see what was inside, but the images were inconclusive. Later, they used a high-powered water cannon to separate the bags, which were tied together, then again to open them up.

Two loud booms could be heard from hundreds of yards away.

Inside the bags troopers found clothes and personal items. The bridge, area roads, and the river were opened after the investgation was over at about 2:30 p.m.

Investigators identified Samuel Owen, 61, of Rainier, as a suspect in the case. He was arrested and booked into the Columbia County Jail on charges of first-degree disorderly conduct, possession of methamphetamin, second-degree theft, third-degree criminal mischief and felon in possession of a restricted weapon.

Officials said the incident was part of a dispute between Owen and another person, and they do not think there's a risk to the public's safety.

During the investigation, people were stranded on both sides of the bridge, unable to get to work or to the other side of the Columbia.

"They wouldn't let us back. Vehicles were coming out, but they wouldn't let us in," said Carl Leonard, who couldn't get back to work.

"It sucks, especially if there is nothing in there except dirty laundry. It screwed up pretty much everybody's day," said Nelson.

During the investigation, Washington State Patrol Trooper Will Finn said there were other reports of someone attaching backpacks to the Harry Morgan Bridge over the Cowlitz River.

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