RIVERSIDE: Letter with white powder at Sheriff’s Admin. building forces evacuations, decontaminations
RIVERSIDE — Seven people were forced to undergo decontamination and were hospitalized and the entire Riverside County Sheriff’s Administration building was evacuated after officials located a “suspicious letter” that contained a “white powder-like substance,” this morning, Monday, Aug. 28, according to officials from multiple involved law enforcement and fire agencies.
“Currently there are seven personnel who have officially been decontaminated,” Riverside County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Sergeant Chris Willison explained from the scene. Although none of those effected complained of any medical problems, all seven were hospitalized as a precautionary measure.
“I can report at this time there have been no objective symptoms or signs,” Willison continued. “They all were treated on scene and were taken to a local area hospital…for further observation.”
The effected Sheriff’s Administration building is in the 4000 block of Lemon Street in Riverside. The letter was discovered on the fourth floor of the administration building, which houses the Department’s West and Central Court Services divisions, according to fire and sheriff’s official from the scene.
It was not immediately known if the suspicious letter had been hand-delivered to the fourth floor or if it had been mailed to the location.
Although the letter was discovered on the fourth floor, based on the circumstances, during the crisis and investigation, the entire Administration building was evacuated as a precautionary measure.
Other divisions housed at the Lemon Street Sheriff’s Administration building include the the Department’s Professional Standards Bureau, as well as Accounting and Human Resources and other key, department personnel and administrators.
Officials have not specified who the letter was addressed to or if that specific person opened the letter and discovered the white, powdery substance. Officials have also not stated what, if anything, the letter specified or if the letter was signed by the person who sent it.
Twenty-three fighters from four engine companies and two truck companies responded to the incident at 8:39 a.m., City of Riverside Fire Department spokesperson Bruce Vanderhorst explained from the scene and in an incident report. They were assisted by the City and County of Riverside’s Hazardous Materials Teams, a Breathing Support Unit, multiple American Medical Response ambulances and other emergency first responders.
Environmental Health officials also were summoned and responded to the location to assist with the investigation.
During the hours-long evacuation, many sheriff’s administration personnel and other Sheriff’s officials could be seen congregating at the nearby Riverside County Administration building. Others were seen in small groups, quietly discussing the incident and investigation.
By afternoon, with the investigation ongoing and without an estimated time for the building to be cleared and re-opened, many County employees who work inside the affected building had reportedly been sent home for the day.
Several command centers were set up in the area, including a large, Riverside County Sheriff’s Mobile Command Center RV. City of Riverside’s Office of Emergency Management and the City of Riverside Fire Department also established command centers in the area during the crisis and investigation.
The different City, County and State agencies are in “joint, unified command,” according to several law enforcement, City and fire officials who were interviewed from the scene.
“What I can tell you at this time is there was a suspicious letter, which sheriff’s officials were notified contained a white, unknown substance,” said Willison. Officials are working together to determine “exactly what (the white, powdery substance) is.”
Addressing fears from other area citizens and employees, Vanderhorst explained The ongoing investigation posed “no threat” to surrounding buildings or businesses; however, Lemon Street remains closed, as authorities continue their investigation.
“Again as we previously stated, we are currently in joint, unified command with Riverside City Fire and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and their HazMat Teams to figure out exactly what that substance is and then ensure that it doesn’t affect any other individuals,” said Willison.
This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information becomes available.
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Trevor Montgomery runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook and also writes for Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.
Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg and breaking his back in an off-duty accident.
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.
Trevor has been married for more than 26 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 13 – soon to be 14 – grandchildren.