SEBRING — Anthony Thomas Cauley, 30, has been arrested for grand theft auto and is being questioned by authorities in connection with today’s bomb threats along U.S. 27. Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said Cauley is currently being held only on the grand theft auto charges with no bond. Any further charges dealing with the bomb investigations will be determined by the FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who are currently working with the State Attorney’s Office.
Traffic was reopened on U.S. 27 shortly before 3 p.m. after being closed for nearly six hours.
A bomb was located at Newsom Eye Center, Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton confirmed, and officials detonated a suspicious device found at Denny’s Restaurant.
“We can confirm four devices,” Benton told the News-Sun late Wednesday morning. “One has been confirmed as an explosive device.” That device, the sheriff said, was located this morning at the recently opened medical complex.
“He is in custody at the Highlands County Jail,” Benton said. Later adding, “We can connect him to the backpack.”
At about 8:15 a.m., Sebring Police received a call about a suspicious item found at the center. When they responded, they saw a white male walking along U.S. 27 carrying a backpack. When police attempted to stop the man, he ran and ditched the backpack.
Benton said inside the backpack police found three containers that were “bomb looking devices.” One plastic container contained pipes, a second contained shotgun shells without gunpowder.
“This device could have damaged property and lives,” Benton said.
Cauley has an extensive criminal history dating back to 2008. According to the Highlands County Clerk of Court’s website, Cauley has previously been charged with use or possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of cannabis, carrying a concealed firearm, no valid driver license, driving under the influence, battery on an elderly person, giving a false name to a law enforcement officer, and stalking.
Officials had shut down U.S. 27 from Valerie Boulevard to the Sebring Parkway as a precaution.
Newsom Eye Center was evacuated around 9 a.m. after the device was located.
Suspicious activity had also been reported earlier this week at a second Newsom Eye location, but nothing suspicious was found.
Sebring Police and Sebring Fire Department quickly established a safety zone that was later expanded as the device was confirmed as explosive.
The FBI was on scene along with representatives from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and FDLE.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office provided incident command and investigative assistance to Sebring Police, Benton said.
Witnesses at the scene described the device located at the medical complex as being similar to a Molotov cocktail, which was also confirmed by Benton.