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3 bomb hoaxes disrupt downtown S.L.

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Before Tuesday, they might have seemed like just another string of bomb threats.

But with the images of passenger planes smashing into the World Trade Center towers still fresh in many minds, three bomb hoaxes Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City seemed anything but ordinary.

"I think everyone's taking these threats a lot more serious," Salt Lake County Sheriff Capt. Scott Mickelsen said after police detonated a suspicious-looking briefcase in front of the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse, 450 S. State.

Police say they treated Thursday's threats at the courthouse, a UTA bus and Salt Lake City International Airport as they have in the past.

"We would have handled this the same way we handled it regardless of what was going on throughout the country," Salt Lake County Sheriff Sgt. Shane Hudson said.

Still, consciously or not, people seem to be paying closer attention to suspicions they might have overlooked before Tuesday. In some cases, individuals purposefully fed the "heightened awareness," authorities said.

Salt Lake police anticipated an increase in calls since the terrorist attacks, Sgt. Fred Louis said.

"Are we doing anything out of the ordinary because of this? No," Louis said. "The officers are well-trained, and we have procedures for this."

Just before 5 p.m., Salt Lake police dispatch received a call of a bomb threat at Salt Lake City International Airport.

"We evaluated the situation and decided it was nonspecific," said Dave Korzep, superintendent of airport operations.

Authorities divulged few details about the threat except the caller said it was supposed to destruct at 5 p.m. It never did.

Earlier, bomb technicians detonated a suspicious device found on a UTA bus about 4:10 p.m.

The suspicious package was made to look like a bomb, but turned out to be a bowling pin wrapped in foam-like material, UTA spokesman Kris McBride said.

Thursday's first hoax started at 10:30 a.m. when an unidentified person called 911 from a pay phone in Liberty Park, claiming there was a bomb underneath a car in the Matheson Courthouse parking garage that would go off at 11 a.m.

That never happened. Instead, police detonated a briefcase sitting in the front seat of a pickup truck parked on State Street in front of the courthouse after a bomb-sniffing dog indicated something suspicious inside the vehicle.

The briefcase, filled with papers and tools, turned out be harmless and the ordeal ended about 5 p.m.

The threat, however, forced police to block off downtown Salt Lake City from Main Street to 200 East and 300 South to 700 South for several hours, taxed numerous police resources, forced the evacuation of several hundred employees from the courthouse, Salt Lake City-County building and nearby businesses and shut down TRAX and UTA bus service to the downtown area. The 600 South off ramp from I-15 was also closed.

E-MAIL: lhancock@desnews.com ; djensen@desnews.com