A geocaching stash box triggered a bomb scare Monday in Manchester, Tenn., that closed down a quarter-mile of Hillsboro Boulevard and caused the evacuation of the Jiffy Burger, Hardee's and the Manchester Public Library for about four hours.
Turns out the box left behind at the Jiffy Burger was part of a planned geocaching tour in Tennessee, partially planned by a local civic tourism agency, but local officials aren't laughing much.
An employee at the Jiffy Burger saw a man get out of his vehicle, remove a package, walk around behind the restaurant and place it by the heat and air-conditioning unit that has gas lines running to it, Manchester Police Maj. Bill Sipe said.
Jiffy Burger folks called the police chief, who sent an officer to check out the report, and that led to evacuation of the restaurants and library while the Tennessee Highway Patrol's bomb squad responded to the restaurant.
The package, a military ammo box, was X-rayed, but officers still couldn't tell what the box contained, Sipe said.
Bomb squad officials used a water cannon to blast the box's lid off so officers could see inside.
"It turned out to be a geocach-type program where they leave various items at different places and people go find these items using GPS coordinates," he said.
The box contained a notepad for geocachers to sign, some toy spiders, a badge and other odds and ends, he said. The box had a geocaching emblem on it but the emblem was facing the wall of the building.
Sipe said the man who placed the box called the police department later Monday night to explain what happened and let officials know he was working with state tourism officials on a planned geocaching tour.
The man said he didn't tell Jiffy Burger folks what he was doing and thought the local Chamber of Commerce had taken care of making contact.
Sipe said no charges are being filed since there was no criminal intent, though the Jiffy Burger and Hardee's probably lost money in the evacuation.
Tracy St. John, one of the owners of the Jiffy Burger with her mother, Nancy Pennington, described the uproar created by the surprise left at the restaurant as "a mess."
"I think the whole town was shut down," said St. John, who was in Alabama on Monday while her father, David Pennington, relayed by phone a play-by-play of what was happening at the restaurant.
According to reports in the Manchester Times, the Manchester Tourism and Community Development Commission had discussed the geocaching effort for almost a year as part of a "Jack Geocaching Trail" under the South Central Tennessee Tourism Association.
The association website says the project is the first "GeoTour" in Tennessee and the Jack GeoTour "went live" in August.
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