Hayden Hayden Police Chief Ray Birch said Tuesday that those who set off crude, homemade bombs last week in the town are fortunate they did not cause more damage.
One officer was injured in the incident, which happened Friday morning in Hayden. A similar incident occurred in Steamboat Springs Friday, but authorities said they don't have evidence that the incidents are related at this point.
"This goes way beyond a prank," Birch said. "This is malicious."
Hayden authorities have identified two adult suspects, and Birch said a case is being prepared for submission to the district attorney. Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae would not comment on possible suspects while the Steamboat case is pending.
Early Friday morning in Hayden, several citizens throughout town called to report gunshots. Officers determined the sounds were not gunshots, but explosions consistent with some type of large firework. Then the officers began finding numerous mangled plastic bottles throughout town that were emitting fumes.
While collecting the bottles, Officer Darin Falk was overcome by the fumes and taken by ambulance to Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat for treatment and observation.
Birch said Falk's symptoms included weakness, severe difficulty breathing, coughing, choking and inflammation of his nose, throat and upper respiratory tract. Falk was diagnosed with chemical bronchitis and has since been released.
Birch said 12 to 14 of the bottles were eventually found and collected. They appear to be the remnants of homemade "acid bombs," which explode when hydrogen chloride, a common cleaning agent, is sealed inside a plastic bottle with aluminum foil, creating a violent chemical reaction that explodes the bottle. Poisonous hydrochloric acid fumes are left over.
Birch said the bombs are very dangerous and could result in injuries such as the loss of a finger, irreversible eye damage and up to and including death.
Three similar explosions occurred at 10:45 p.m. Friday near 10th Street and Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat. Rae said a police officer heard explosions in the area and found evidence similar to that found in Hayden.
Rae mentioned dry ice in addition to the acid bomb ingredients, which would suggest the additional use of a separate kind of homemade bomb, a "dry ice bomb." Dry ice bombs also involve a chemical reaction inside a plastic bottle, but dry ice is the only necessary ingredient, with the possible addition of water to speed the reaction.
According to The First Responder's Field Guide to Hazmat and Terrorism Emergency Response, acid bombs detonate about 30 seconds after the foil and hydrogen chloride are combined and sealed inside the bottle. Dry ice bombs are much less consistent and could detonate after 30 seconds or 30 minutes.
"That's probably the scariest thing," Rae said, noting that there would be no way for those detonating the bombs and running away to prevent people from entering the area. "Fortunately to our knowledge, no one was injured."
Rae said no Steamboat officers showed adverse effects after investigating the explosions.
Costs related to Falk's health care, contamination of his patrol car and the need to call in a Moffat County hazardous materials team for cleanup could end up costing the town of Hayden thousands of dollars, Birch said. Falk's injuries also left the department a man down for several days.
"Think about how that impacts a small department," Birch said. "It impacts the service you can provide to the community."
While still in pain, Falk was expected to return to work Tuesday afternoon and make a full recovery.
The incident in Hayden and the one in Steamboat are being investigated separately by the two police departments. Birch said state Homeland Security officials were told about the case, but as of yet the Colorado Bureau of Investigation is not involved in the investigation, nor any other state or federal agencies.
Sgt. Gordon Booco is the lead investigator of the case in Hayden. Booco said Hayden police are working with Steamboat police but that there is no link yet between the incidents.