Office Tower Evacuated After Bomb Scare

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A 41-story state office tower that houses the state Supreme Court was evacuated Wednesday after a man told a state worker, "I'm here to install a bomb," and dogs detected the scent of bomb-making material, the State Highway Patrol said.

Authorities found no evidence of a bomb. The James A. Rhodes State Office Tower and surrounding downtown streets were reopened after about two hours.

The scent of material that can be used to make a bomb was detected in a van parked at a loading dock in the rear of the building, which is across the street from the Statehouse. Patrol

Lt. Col. Paul McClellan said the scent was detected three times by a one dog and once by another. Authorities had not identified the material.

The van driver was taken into custody and charged with inducing panic. He been approached by an employee on the 28th floor who thought he looked out of place and then made the statement about a bomb, police said.

"Certainly, it's a possibility someone said something very stupid," McClellan said.

Troopers took the man, Oscar Sesmas, 35, of Columbus, into custody at 1:17 p.m. He then led troopers to a van, McClellan said.

Sesmas was in the Franklin County jail.

He had signed in at the building at 9:30 a.m. to make a delivery, McClellan said. It was not clear what he did in the nearly four hours that elapsed, authorities said.

The van was owned by Inside Outfitters of suburban Columbus. A message seeking comment was left on the company's voicemail.

The evacuation was ordered at 2 p.m. and completed within about half an hour. About 4,000 state employees work in the building. It was not clear how many were affected.

Bob Morgan, an investigator with the attorney general's office, said employees were told to leave via stairways. They were not told why.

"It was a very eerie feeling," he said of his walk from the 14th floor.

Police cars cordoned off the street in front of the downtown building.

The court, which occupies seven floors, was not in session on Wednesday and no justices were in the building when the evacuation was ordered, court spokesman Jay Wuebbold said.

Neither were the two other elected officials in the building, Treasurer Joseph Deters and Attorney General Betty Montgomery, spokesmen said. Auditor Jim Petro and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell have offices in other downtown buildings.

Gov. Bob Taft was in his office, which is a block from the Rhodes tower, said Joe Andrews, Taft's spokesman. He would not say whether security was increased around the governor.

The building was named after former Gov. James A. Rhodes, a Republican who served four terms. He died last year.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)