HEBER CITY — The Wal-Mart in Heber City was evacuated Friday after police found what they believed was a pipe bomb left in the bathroom by a Utah State Prison inmate.
Now, investigators are trying to determine how the man was able to come up with what appeared to be a credible pipe bomb during the 45 minutes he was missing or if someone was helping him.
Heber City Police Chief Dave Booth said the incident began before noon with a work-release crew.
"There was a Utah State Prison inmate crew doing asbestos removal at the old Wasatch High School," Booth said. "One of their inmates walked away."
A supervisor reported that Larry Clifford Newman, 35, was missing and "may be depressed and suicidal," said Wasatch County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jared Rigby.
Utah Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook said the inmate was part of a minimum-security crew — considered to be a low risk to the community — that had been working in Heber City for a while.
"He hasn't had any pattern of something that would make us be unusually concerned about him," Cook said. "(It was) sort of a surprise."
As officers began checking the area for Newman, they came across a woman who said she had just been approached by a man at Wal-Mart matching Newman's description who asked her for a ride down Provo Canyon, Rigby said.
Officers went to Wal-Mart, found Newman in the bathroom and arrested him. But they also found what appeared to be a pipe bomb — a metal pipe with electric wires attached.
The Wal-Mart and surrounding businesses were evacuated and the parking lots cleared as the Utah County Sheriff's Bomb Squad drove to the scene to handle the device.
As of Friday afternoon, Rigby said it hadn't been fully determined whether the device was an actual explosive. An X-ray was inconclusive. But because it did appear to be a "credible threat," the bomb squad took the device to a safe place away from the store and destroyed it.
Cook said inmates are frequently checked by corrections officers throughout the day to make sure they haven't smuggled something they're not supposed to have. He said the inmate did not have an explosive device on him the last time he was checked by an officer before running away.
It was not immediately known where or how Newton came up with the device from the time he disappeared until the time he was taken into custody again.
According to Utah state court records, Newman pleaded no contest in 2012 to theft, and guilty in a separate case that same year to felony drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.1 comment on this story
He pleaded guilty again to attempted burglary in March 2013 and was sentenced to up to five years in Utah State Prison.
Newman potentially will now face additional charges for Friday's incident.