He had gone to great lengths to make it look real. —Heber Police Chief Dave Booth
HEBER CITY — Investigators believe a Utah prison inmate spent several weeks collecting the materials he used to build a realistic replica of an explosive device that forced the evacuation of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in March.
Clifford Larry Newman was charged Tuesday in 4th District Court with possession of a hoax weapon of mass destruction, a second-degree felony, and escape from official custody, a third-degree felony.
Newman, 35, was part of an inmate work crew from the Utah State Prison that was removing asbestos from the old Wasatch High School prior to its demolition when he walked off the job site on March 28, according to Heber Police Chief Dave Booth.
Based on tips from the public, officers tracked Newman to Wal-Mart and arrested him in a bathroom stall. There was also what appeared to be a pipe bomb inside the bathroom, Booth said.
"He had gone to great lengths to make it look real," the chief said Wednesday.
The device was made from two 12-inch-long pipe segments that had been capped on each end. The pipes were fastened together and there were wires protruding from the ends, Booth said, noting that there was also what appeared to be a strap that would allow Newman to fasten the device to his body.
"We think we interrupted him (in the bathroom stall) before he could strap it to his chest," Booth said.
The Utah County sheriff's bomb squad was called to the scene to handle the device. An X-ray was inconclusive. However, because the device did appear to pose a "credible threat," the bomb squad took the device to a safe place away from the store and destroyed it.
A facilities supervisor for the Wasatch County School District told police the device Newman built could have been made from materials found inside the former high school where he was working, Booth said. Newman has not spoken with investigators.
"He invoked his rights," the chief said, "but our belief is that he spent several weeks putting it together."
The device did not contain any explosive material, according to Booth.
Utah state court records indicate that 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. He pleaded guilty again to attempted burglary in March 2013 and was sentenced to up to five years in Utah State Prison.
Newman's first court appearance on the new charges was set for Wednesday.