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Five Cities man gets envelope with white powder in mail, shuts down a police station

Firefighters stand by Monday afternoon outside the Santa Maria police station after a man brought an envelope containing a white powder to the station.
Firefighters stand by Monday afternoon outside the Santa Maria police station after a man brought an envelope containing a white powder to the station. Noozhawk.com

A suspicious letter led to a hazardous-materials response at the Santa Maria Police Station on Monday afternoon, but authorities determined the white powder did not pose a danger.

At approximately 4:20 p.m., personnel from the Santa Maria Fire and Santa Barbara County Fire departments were dispatched to the police station at 1111 W. Betteravia Road.

A man from the Five Cities brought a letter-sized item containing white powder to the police station, leading to the precautions, Lt. Terry Flaa said.

After analysis, authorities determined nearly two hours later that the powder was not dangerous.

“We don’t know exactly what the content of the package is at this time. However, through investigative measures we’ve determined this is a non-credible threat and the item is going to be disposed of,” Flaa said.

The lobby of the police station was closed during the incident, but other normal operations, including emergency dispatch services which are located in a different area of the building, continued, Flaa said.

“While we had officers assigned specifically to this incident, we also maintained our appropriate staffing levels to handle calls for service throughout the greater community,” Flaa added.

The item was sent to the Arroyo Grande man’s Pismo Beach post office box, and he drove the letter to the Santa Maria station due to a return address saying it had been mailed from the city.

“We do not recommend handling it in that manner,” Flaa said. “In the event somebody does come across a suspicious package containing powder or any other type of substance we recommend that you immediately put the item down, back away from it, get other people away from it and call 911 immediately, leaving it right where it is,” Flaa said.

Investigators have started working to determine a link between those who live at the location listed on the letter’s return address and the possible association with mailing the item, he added. A hazardous waste disposal company will handle getting rid of the item, Flaa said.

The letter’s recipient, Joseph Skoda, a disabled veteran from Arroyo Grande, said he didn’t know who might have sent the letter containing what he called “a lump of powder.” He said he wasn’t afraid until he arrived at the police station and saw the quarantine put into place.

“It’s a rough world we live in,” he said.

In hindsight, he said, he should have set the letter down and notified authorities, but had praise for how police officers and firefighters handled the matter.

“I think they did a good job, quarantining the area, making sure we’re safe. They don’t know what’s in there. They still don’t know what’s in here,” he said, adding he donned a rubber glove as protection once he realized what was in the envelope.

He added he hopes to eventually find out who sent the item.

“We’re safe now, thanks to our finest police department in Santa Maria,” he added.

— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.

Crews cleanup after a semi truck rolled over on southbound Highway 101 on Thursday morning and began leaking an unknown fluid, causing authorities to shut down the road for about 5 hours.

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