Suspicious device

Charlottesville Police Department

This device, made of PVC plastic plumbing pipe and found in a vehicle during a traffic stop, led Charlottesville police to file bomb possession charges against a city man. The felony charge was dismissed Thursday.

A judge on Thursday dismissed a charge of possession of an explosive device against a Zion Crossroads man.

Robert Pryor, 34, was arrested in September after a police bomb-sniffing dog alerted on an item in his car during a traffic stop. Police said they asked Pryor if they could search his car after officers reported a smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle.

At the time, Pryor said the device found in his car, which officers from the Charlottesville Police Department destroyed in a controlled detonation, was an air pump. Some of the chemicals bomb dogs are trained to smell are found in glues used in construct both pipe bombs and homemade air pumps.

On Thursday, Pryor was found guilty of marijuana possession, a misdemeanor, and given a suspended $100 fine and restricted license. The Commonwealth chose not to pursue the traffic infractions.

After Pryor’s arrest, city police released photos of the device which they said resembled a pipe-bomb.

“Based on the pipe-bomb design of the pressurized device, inaccurately characterized as an ‘air pump,’ and the circumstances surrounding the encounter, [city police] officers and [state police] responded appropriately by containing and then disrupting the device,” Tyler Hawn, city police spokesman, wrote in an email.

The email included photos of the device and a picture of the X-ray taken by state troopers before the device was submerged in water and broken up by a controlled explosion. The picture shows an oblong object created out of sections of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic pipe connected by PVC adapters, sealed with purple solvent welding material commonly used in plumbing.

One end of the object has a metallic protrusion that, in the X-ray, appears similar to a Schrader valve like those used in automobile and bicycle tires to allow compressed air to flow in and out.

The email also included photos and diagrams of homemade pipe bombs made with materials that appear to be similar to those used in the device.

An internet search shows a variety of do-it-yourself compressed air containers being built of the same materials with a Schrader valve used to fill the container, including instructions published by the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The devices may be filled with air using a simple bicycle pump, according to the instructions.

The school instructions include connecting the device to a solenoid valve to use the compressed air in a container for a variety of uses, including stagecraft.

“There are nearly limitless applications of a small portable compressed air effect in theater,” the instructions state. “You can connect the outlet of the solenoid valve to a small piston and push an object forward. Another possibility is to screw the outlet into an open-ended PVC tube, creating [an] air cannon. Regardless of the end application, the PVC air tank is a flexible, useful piece of theater technology.”

Other online sources recommend against using such a homemade device for storing compressed air because of the possibility that the container could violently rupture under pressure.

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