Jay Byron and grandson Marcos Sanchez hadn’t even got both their fishing lines in Lake Ballinger on Friday evening when their fishing trip was cut short by a mysterious find – a 4- to 6-inch cylinder tube made of PVC pipe, capped on both ends and wrapped in camo duct tape. An immediate call to the Edmonds Police Department resulted in closure of the Edmonds public access boat launch where the device was found; then the Washington State Patrol Interagency Bomb Squad was called in to examine the device, neutralize it and take it away.
A trooper with the WSP bomb team called it a “pipe bomb” and said, if detonated, it could “take your fingers off.” Edmonds police congratulated Byron and Sanchez for alerting them of the dangerous item and the boat launch was reopened to the public.
But Mountlake Terrace resident Doug Waterman says the whole episode was overblown because the device wasn’t a pipe bomb at all. It was a geocache container, which he put at the boat launch — with a pad of paper inside — in October 2010.
Waterman is a geocacher, one of thousands who take part in a recreational activity in which participants use Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to hide and find containers all over the world. There are more than 2 million geocaches hidden worldwide, and it is estimated more than five million people participate in the hobby.
Waterman, who has been involved with geocaching for years, said he was shocked when he first heard the cache was labeled a pipe bomb and taken away by the WSP bomb team. “I spit coffee all over my computer when I saw the story,” he said. “Yes, it was mine. White plastic tube, white plastic end caps, covered in camo duct tape; has a geocaching log inside to sign and whatever trinkets, toys or etcetera people drop off and trade. That one has been found 88 times and has been there since October 15, 2010.”
Waterman contacted the Edmonds Police Department Saturday morning just after he had learned what had happened to his geocache container. “All PD’s are aware of geocaching; why this got whacked out of shape I don’t know,” he said.
Geocaching containers come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from small matchbox-size boxes to military ammunition boxes to Tupperware containers. Caches can be purchased or homemade. Almost all contain a log book and a pen or pencil for geocachers to record their find. Many have small toys or trinkets inside that geocachers will take when they find the cache and exchange with an item of similar or higher value.
Geocachers even have a popular website where they can get GPS coordinates or maps to seek out caches to hunt for. The site’s map shows dozens of hidden caches around south Snohomish County.
Waterman said he has heard of caches being mistaken as a dangerous device at times, and “in hindsight, that shape and style container was probably a bad thing.” But his bigger concern is to reassure residents of the east side of Lake Ballinger that they are in no danger from geocache containers, and “to put all minds at ease in that area.”
Despite Waterman’s claim, the Washington State Patrol is still insisting the item found Friday night “was a small PVC pipe bomb.” Neither the WSP nor the Edmonds Police Department is commenting on the possibility that the container was found by someone who then modified it into something dangerous.
“There is no suspect and Edmonds PD is investigating,” said WSP spokesman Trooper Mark Francis.
— By Doug Petrowski