Gov. Norm Bangerter and an official party with him from Utah were whisked to the U.S. Embassy in Honduras Monday after security officials saw a suspicious vehicle following a motorcade carrying a three-star Army general.
Bangerter flew to Honduras on Sunday for a tour of U.S. Southern Command operations in Panama and to visit Utah National Guard engineers who are building a road in the remote Yoro Province during their annual training.Members of the Utah party had just arrived Monday about 6 p.m. at their hotel in the capital city and were exiting three bulletproof vans when they were abruptly herded back into the vans by U.S. security personnel.
Minutes before, a vehicle carrying three men and a woman was spotted following a van containing 4th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Fred Brown.
One U.S. agent coordinating security at the hotel said a rifle was seen in the suspicious car. But that report was not confirmed later in the evening.
The governor's and general's parties were taken to the embassy for security reasons, even though some members of the party were kept outside the embassy's perimeter walls for 10 to 15 minutes because no one was carrying a passport.
All passports in Bangerter's party were being kept by an Army National Guard escort.
Traveling with the governor on the four-day Honduras trip - and the unscheduled stop at the embassy Monday night - are his wife, Colleen; Utah National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews and his wife, Darlene; Brig. Gen. James G. Martin; Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's administrative assistant; Sen. Wilford R. Black Jr., Utah Senate minority leader; Jay Stuart, principal of Box Elder High School and president of the Utah Secondary School Principals Association; four reporters and two cameramen from Salt Lake City; the governor's security guard and several National Guard officers.
Craig Moody, Utah House majority leader, and Fred Ball, Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce president, also are traveling with the governor but had already gone inside the hotel, along with another reporter, when the rest of the party was rushed away.
Armed plainclothes security guards searched the hotel until they located the three missing members of Bangerter's party and several other Americans who became separated from Brown's party.
Once found, some members of the group still at the hotel were asked to wait in the lobby until they, too, could be taken to the embassy. But the hotel was searched and ruled secure within the hour, and the group at the embassy was returned.
Matthews said on his return that the hotel had been determined safe or else the security personnel would have kept the group at the embassy.
Two armed plainclothes guards assigned from the military advisers' group in Panama travel with the governor everywhere - shooing away street children who begged coins from Bangerter as he took a walking tour of the city Sunday and coordinating their locations using coded messages on two-way radios.
Drivers for the motorcade take different routes to and from the airport. The chase vehicle lags behind, looking for suspicious vehicles.
The chase car spotted the suspicious vehicle tailing Brown's van.
Once the scare involving the embassy was over, Bangerter and part of his party walked as they had done the night before to a nearby restaurant in time for a late dinner.
(Additional story) Bangerter's trip
Where: The Central American countries of Honduras and Panama.
Major activities: Bangerter will meet with the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Honduran President Jose Azcona Hoyo and U.S. Southern Command officers in Panama.