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“It could very well be an intentional hoax or it could be something that could be construed as more than it is,” King said.
The incident led authorities to close southbound Cleveland Avenue for more than 30 minutes. Emergency workers gently hosed down nine people as a precautionary measure.
Eleven people at the restaurant were examined at Cape Coral Hospital, hospital officials said. They later were released.
The nine employees and customers of Arby’s restaurant, and two Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies, showed no signs of sickness.
They were taken to Cape Coral Hospital because employees gained experience through two biohazardous threats last year. Both of those threats were determined to be hoaxes.
Authorities originally were searching for two men and a woman in the restaurant shortly before the bag was found, but there is no evidence to connect them to the bag, King said.
Employees called 911 for help after finding the bag because they were suspicious about what could be inside, King said. WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Symptoms of a possible virus or bacteria:
1. Respiratory problems, including shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
2. Neurological problems, including feeling lethargic.
There is no danger to the public’s health, said Dr. Bob South, clinical coordinator for the Lee County Health Department.
He was called to the restaurant at 12126 S. Cleveland Ave. to help with the investigation.
“This involved one building and we believe it is an isolated incident,” South said.
The FBI is investigating the bag and has not determined whether it is a hoax or a serious threat, King said.
“Either way people were endangered and emergency crews had to respond,” King said. “This was a traumatic experience for the people involved.”
The bag has been sent to a Tampa lab for testing, according to Cape Coral Hospital officials. Results are expected within two days.
Petra Alpen, director of operations at the restaurant who was called to the restaurant, said the note stated, “This is a virus that will take effect in seven to 15 days.”
King would not confirm words written on the paper but said there was a reference to bacteria.
Security agencies across Southwest Florida are on heightened alert since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, but hazardous threats made anytime are treated seriously, said Christie Knudsen, a spokeswoman for the South Trail Fire Protection and Rescue Service District, which responded to the restaurant.
Florida Highway Patrol and Lee County Sheriff's Deputies block south bound traffic on US 41 and redirect it to Park Meadows Drive Monday. TODD STUBING/The News Press
Click on image to enlarge.
“We take these things as seriously as we ever have,” Knudsen said. “There has been no change in procedure.”
Twice in the past year anthrax scares have sent people to Cape Coral Hospital for decontamination. The FBI and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta determined the threats at OSI Collection Services in January and at Cameron’s British Foods last November were hoaxes.
Lee Deputy Wilfred Rivera and Cpl. William Held were the first to arrive Monday at the restaurant. After opening the bag and reading the note, emergency crews were called, said Capt. Dave Wheaton of Lee County’s Division of Public Safety.
Dozens of emergency personnel responded. Deputies evacuated the restaurant immediately, isolating nine people in the parking lot.
“All of a sudden people came running out,” said John Hines, an Atlanta man who was in line at the drive-through window when the package was found. “I thought it was a hostage situation.”
South Trail emergency workers and the Fort Myers City Hazardous Materials team used fire hoses to gently wash the nine people. They then wrapped them in protective blankets and masks before taking them to the hospital, Wheaton said.
Two other people inside the restaurant drove themselves to Cape Coral hospital, where they were decontaminated, said Jeff Doucette, director of emergency services at Lee Memorial Health System.
“None of the patients exhibited any signs or symptoms that would indicate they had come into contact with a virus,” Doucette said. “We are not concerned at this point.”