A Seattle artist was taken into police custody Monday after he said he left a truck with a sculpture parked near a downtown park, sparking a nine-block evacuation of the city’s core.
The artist, Jason Sprinkle, 26, came to the Seattle office of The Associated Press, where he surrendered peacefully to police at about 7:10 p.m. - four hours after the downtown incident began.
Sprinkle said he meant no harm and only left the truck downtown as a protest. Police placed him under arrest.
The truck was impounded and city streets reopened about 8:45 p.m.
The nine-block area in the heart of Seattle’s downtown retail core was evacuated Monday afternoon after a dilapidated pickup truck carrying a metal heart sculpture was left at the edge of Westlake Park.
Sprinkle, who had earlier telephoned the AP, agreed to accompany an AP reporter to the wire service’s office and then to give himself up.
Sprinkle told the AP that there was no bomb in the truck. “All it was is art,” he said.
Police spokeswoman Christie-Lynne Bonner said the word “bomb” was written on the front bumper of the truck. But Sprinkle insisted he meant no harm.
Sprinkle was among a group of artists who previously have staged protests in downtown Seattle against reopening a street to vehicle traffic through the urban park.
The truck was left at the edge of the park at Fourth Avenue and Pine Street at about 3:10 p.m., Bonner said. Witnesses reported that a man got out of the truck, slashed its tires and left, she said.
Bonner said a man and a woman were seen leaving the truck.
She said a quick examination of the truck by police indicated a package or packages were inside. The area was evacuated and King County authorities brought in a robot to further examine the truck and its contents.
The truck, left among some large concrete planters, carried a large metallic sculpture of a human heart. A similar sculpture has been used in the past to protest plans to reopen Pine Street to car and truck traffic. The street runs through the middle of the blockwide park, where street musicians, peddlers and street people customarily mingle with shoppers and office workers.
In his telephone call, Sprinkle said he did not mean to scare anyone. He said he had gone to the Seattle Arts Commission earlier in the day and talked to them about the lack of support for some artists.
“Then I went and committed public art,” he said.
He said he tried calling the mayor’s office after seeing the commotion caused by the evacuation when news reports appeared on local television. He said an aide who answered the phone hung up on him.
“They shouldn’t think it was a bomb. … They should know my personality” from past protests, he said.
“I didn’t even think it would be noticed.”
A friend of Sprinkle’s told the AP that the man had been despondent for months since a friend attempted suicide and survived with serious injuries. He has lost touch with those who care about him, the friend said.
“We’re afraid he’s losing it,” the friend said. “This is not funny. This is not about anything.”
The evacuated area included the Westlake Center complex of shops and restaurants and the Nordstrom store, which are located on two sides of the urban park, and The Bon Marche department store a block away.
Also closed were the Metro bus tunnel station beneath the park and the Monorail station within Westlake Center.
Thousands of people lined the edge of the evacuated area, which was cordoned off by yellow police tape. Sealed off was the area between Third and Sixth avenues and Olive and Pine streets.
The evacuation and tunnel closure snarled traffic at the start of the afternoon rush hour.
In January 1995, a band of guerrilla artists placed a three-quarter-ton sculpture in the shape of a red-painted heart in the downtown plaza. The heart was pierced with a 12-foot dagger. On one side of the knife’s black handle was written “Corporate Interests,” while the other side read “Big Brother.”
Nordstrom Inc. executives had demanded reopening the street as a condition for proceeding with a $100 million renovation of the old Frederick & Nelson downtown store, across the street from Westlake Center.
In March 1995, voters approved the reopening of Pine Street through Westlake Park.
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