LEETONIA - Sgt. Rick Dattilio was on routine patrol Wednesday night when he noticed something amiss in the glow of the streetlights on Spruce Street.
At first, he thought the bloated and swelling bottle was a Drano bomb, but then realized this was a little different.
The 16-ounce water bottle was filled with a clear liquid, not Drano. Three minutes later, as the bottle continued to swell, he put in a call to Fire Chief Larry Hephner Jr., who then called the Columbiana County Sheriff's Office.
Lt. Brian McLaughlin and Detective Mike Harty of the county Drug Task Force neutralize a bottle bomb found outside a Leetonia church Wednesday night. (Salem News photo by Patti Schaeffer)
Dattilio spoke with Drug Task Force Director Brian McLaughlin minutes later, and he and another DTF agent arrived at the scene shortly after to assist Leetonia police and fire officials.
Dattilio said the bottle was located on the roadway near several parked vehicles belonging to members of the St. Paul's Lutheran Church located at 29 Spruce Street, near Somer Street.
The church was having some sort of service at the time and authorities told them to evacuate the building while McLaughlin and his assisting agent tended to the possible homemade bomb.
Dattilio said there were enough people at the church that its parking lot and and both sides of Spruce Street were full of vehicles, which were all moved upon their orders.
McLaughlin said they treated the potential bomb similar to a one-pot meth lab and it is being shipped to Canton for processing and disposal.
Dattilio, who has been on the Leetonia force 22 years, said this is the first time he has come across something like this.
"We didn't know what it was," he said.
McLaughlin did not identify the substance inside, only saying it was "dangerous." It is the 14th bottle bomb found in the county since last February, he added.
Most of the others were found in Salem, with two found in New Waterford and one in Lisbon, and all of the suspects but one have been found and prosecuted in those cases, he added.