WEST JEFFERSON-The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office is looking for a possible connection between a series of bomb threats in the Hickory area and hoaxes that occurred at the court house in Jefferson two weeks ago and Walmart earlier this week.
On Friday, Sheriff James Williams said the detective assigned to the case is reaching out to federal investigators to see if there is any connection to the 400 bomb threats made in Catawba, Burke and Caldwell counties this spring and summer.
According to regional media reports, Cody Matthew Startt, 27, was arrested in West Virginia on Thursday and charged with felony probation violations for convictions related to prior bomb threats. Authorities have not yet charged Startt in the recent bomb threats, according to the Hickory Daily Record.
Authorities are ramping up their efforts to bring the case to a close following a second bomb threat at the West Jefferson Walmart earlier this week. The call occurred late at night.
“We emptied it out and there was nothing to it,” said Williams.
The sheriff added that the store’s clean-up and stocking crews were primarily the only ones in the building at the time of the hoax. West Jefferson Police Chief Jeff Rose said the Walmart bomb threat came in early Tuesday morning around midnight.
Rose said the caller told a cashier on the phone about a bomb being placed in the building. The cashier then called dispatch and authorities responded soon after to search and clear the building. Authorities have not said if the two threats are related, but Rose said they are looking into that possibility.
“We are currently working with the Hickory Police Department and we’ve contacted the SBI and FBI,” said Rose.
The sheriff’s office has also offered a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the callers.
Tipsters can contact the ACSO at 336-846-5600 or remain anonymous by calling the Crime Stoppers Line at 336-846-4188.
Original bomb threat
While Ashe County is comprised mostly of sleeping mountain communities it is not without a few harrowing moments. The latest inquiry into these two bomb threats can be traced to the original one that occurred at the court house.
Williams said last month the threat that cleared the courthouse was received by phone and was initially reported to 911 dispatch at 11 a.m. on June 22, and was quickly followed by two additional mobile calls that Williams believe originated within the same vehicle.
“On the first call we couldn’t hear anything,” said Williams. “On the second call, it sounded garbled like someone was driving down the road with the phone out the window like they were trying to mask their voice. It was a female who said she heard two guys talking about planting a pipe bomb in the court house.”
A short time later, authorities received a call from a male saying there was a bomb in court house.
“At the time, we decided out of abundance of caution to search the court house,” said Williams. “Of course, we found nothing.”
Altogether, it took authorities approximately an hour to clear the entire building. Williams said he assigned a specified number of officers to search each floor. Although the threat turned out to be a false alarm, Williams said it was very costly for volunteer personnel who had to take time out of their day. He said the hoax also diverted vital rescue staff and resources from other parts of the county.
Ultimately, he said authorities are lucky that no one lost their lives as rescue crews tended to the matter. Williams also issued a $1,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for that threat.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.