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In brief: Block emptied for suspicious device

Spokane police evacuated a block of South Side homes Friday afternoon and blew up a suspicious device, possibly a chemical bomb, that a letter carrier found in a retired couple’s mailbox.

What was left of the device was sent to a laboratory for analysis, but Officer Tim Moses said authorities didn’t know whether it actually was a bomb.

“It could have been a sick joke,” he said.

Moses said the device consisted of what appeared to be two 12-ounce beverage-type bottles taped together, with some tubing and Romex household electrical wire in the middle.

The incident in the 4300 block of East 30th Avenue was reported about 2:45 p.m. Residents were allowed to return to their homes within two hours, Moses said.

– John Craig

Cantwell queries local gang problem

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell wants to know how significant the gang problem is in the Spokane area.

Today she will hear from local, state and federal law enforcement authorities about the violence, guns and how much space gang members are taking up in the county jail.

The 1 p.m. meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at the Monroe Court Building, 901 N. Monroe St., in the third-floor conference room.

Authorities have confirmed more than 900 gang members in the Spokane area, said Officer Mike Roberge, a member of the Gang Enforcement Team.

Cantwell spent Friday talking with law enforcement, educators and community members in Vancouver, Wash. During the meeting, she announced that she has called on U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate possible connections between gangs and methamphetamine trafficking, according to Cantwell’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Gerranti.

– Jody Lawrence-Turner

Grants given to homeless-aid groups

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $2.6 million to organizations in Spokane County that serve homeless individuals and families, the agency said in a press release Friday afternoon.

Washington organizations received more than $34 million in federal grants, roughly the same amount received last year.

The grants include $2.1 million for programs in the city of Spokane, as well as $300,000 for county programs. The county received $170,000 for emergency shelter programs.

“This federal funding is a critical component for the success of state and local government 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness,” said John W. Meyers, HUD’s regional director in Seattle. “Cities, counties, faith-based and community nonprofit agencies throughout Washington depend on this funding to provide housing and supportive services to some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”

The grants support housing programs, as well as job training, health care and substance abuse programs for homeless people.

– Staff reports

Medical Lake

4 arrested, 2 sought in car thefts

Four people were arrested Friday in a daylong car-theft investigation by Spokane County sheriff’s officers and Medical Lake police.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Reagan said the operation began about 8:30 a.m. when a witness reported three nearly identical Honda vehicles and several teenagers at the Silver Lake boat launch at Medical Lake. Medical Lake police Sgt. Joseph Mehrens blocked the only exit until other officers arrived.

Five suspects were detained. A sixth ran away, but he was identified and is being sought, Reagan said.

He said officers discovered that one of the three Hondas had been stolen, and parts from it were being transferred to the other two.

Sheriff’s Detective Mike Drapeau and Deputy Ray Miller uncovered information that led to other stolen cars and car parts at 4220 E. Princeton Ave. in Spokane and at a Spokane Valley address.

Reagan said all four suspects who were arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property are resident aliens. They are Ivan N. Chernov, 18, of North Atlantic Street; Valentin A. Pankov, 19, of East Princeton Avenue; and two unnamed brothers, ages 17 and 15.

A fifth suspect was to be arrested later, and a sixth remained under investigation, Reagan said.

– John Craig