by Leslie Toth
Motorists attempting to take Highway 169 north from Highway 23 Tuesday morning were directed to turn around by deputies and Milaca city employees following the discovery of an explosive device.
Around 10 a.m., Doug Halvorson of Thrivent Financial said he and the other employees at Maple Ridge Mall, Dairy Queen, Barbara Jean’s, Holiday and Subway were told to leave by police officers.
“When the deputies came in and said we had to evacuate — there’s a bomb threat — I thought, you have to be kidding me,” Halvorson said.
Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren said the incident began with a traffic stop just outside of Onamia earlier in the day. A chief deputy issued a warning for speeding to a man whom the deputy observed was acting excited, angry, nervous and suspicious. The deputy also noticed a propane tank in the vehicle.
Upon report, task force agents ordered undercover surveillance on the vehicle. The man was stopped again just before 10 a.m. on Highway 23 near Airport Road in Milaca for erratic driving. A K-9 unit was called to conduct a walk-over of the vehicle. During a search of the vehicle, police found an explosive device, burglary tools and a propane tank with unknown contents.
“Officers did see a possible detonation device in the vehicle,” Lindgren said.
Area residents in the development just north of Highway 23 along Airport Road were concerned they would be forced to evacuate as well. However, Milaca Police Chief Todd Quaintance reassured at least one homeowner they could stay in their homes.
The Milaca Police and Fire, Princeton Police and Fire, local ambulance services, Minnesota State Patrol as well as the Narcotics Task Force all responded to the scene. Sheriff Lindgren said the Crow Wing County Bomb Squad was also called to neutralize the device.
A 41-year-old Zimmerman man, who is not being named by law enforcement at this time, was taken into custody and transported to the Mille Lacs County Jail.
A correctional agent confirmed the man had an appointment in Elk River between 10 a.m. and noon that day, which may have been his destination.
“He has an extensive history with law enforcement,” Lindgren said. “We are in the process of interviewing him to find out more.”