Rocket fuel cause of Scarborough evacuation

The evacuation of 50,000 Scarborough residents and businesses on Sept. 14 turned out to be the result of a modification that 27-year-old Shaun Morris made to his red Chevrolet Astro van. No bomb was found.

“It is better to be safe than sorry in situations like these,” said Toronto Police Const. Tony Vella. “You do not want to not take situations like this seriously when it can affect as many people as it could have.

Bomb scare van a car of the future?

Shaun Morris claims that the device in his vehicle was a hydrogen fuel system. This is one of the reasons why Toronto Police still took the precaution of it being potentially explosive.

Hydrogen in its natural form is a gas and highly flammable. It can also be converted into a liquid state. The booster rockets on the space shuttle use hydrogen as a propellant. But as a fuel source for a vehicle like Morris’s, Prof. Murray Thomson of the University of Toronto says it just does not make sense.

“With cars, hydrogen is not a fuel source. It is more conceivable as a source of energy storage like a battery,” says Thompson. “But the problem is it is a poor source of energy storage, and can not provide the efficiency as other fuel sources like ethanol or hybrid-electrical systems.”

The idea of hydrogen’s use in with automobiles is through using water, an abundant natural substance, where the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are separate to provide the energy a vehicle needs to move.

Research and development of this idea is on going in many educational institutions along side car manufacturers, but Thompson still feels that finding a more efficient battery source is the way to go.

“With the information we had, the potential for an explosion was very real.”

Morris’s vehicle was towed for a parking violation from Centennial College’s Ashtonbee campus located near Eglinton Avenue East and Warden Avenue, where he is a student. The vehicle was brought to the Willams Towing compound on Markham Road north of Finch Avenue, where the discovery of the unknown apparatus was later made.

The device in the van led to the bomb squad being called in to secure the vehicle and the surrounding area. On-scene officers compared the device to a “pipe bomb” due to the size and shape and the visible wires coming from a cylindrical object, said Const. Wendy Drummond of Toronto Police.

“As a result of the vehicle’s proximity to a nearby industrial size propane tank on the towing compound, a 1.6-kilometre area surrounding the vehicle was evacuated as a precaution due to the potential for an explosion”, Drummond said.

The evacuated area spanned from Steeles Avenue to Finch Avenue and from Morningside Drive to Middlefield Road.

Morris was in fact the one who contacted Toronto Police in search of his missing van, saying he was concerned about the possible danger the modifications could cause. Morris was taken into custody where he guided Toronto Police and the bomb squad through the workings of the device and how to safely remove it.

The device was in fact not a bomb, but a modification for Morris’s van to run on hydrogen. Although emergency services determined that the device was not created for the purpose of being used as a weapon, it was still treated as an explosive by the bomb squad due to the volatile nature of hydrogen in a liquid form, which Morris claimed to use.

After five hours, the all-clear was given for residents to return to their homes and businesses.

Drummond attributed the smooth response in handling the situation by the various emergency services, including Toronto Fire and EMS, to the lessons learnt from the Sunrise propane explosion just over a year ago.

Toronto Police held Morris overnight but did not charge him, citing no criminal intent associated with Morris having the device in his vehicle, but he was asked to submit to a mental assessment at a local Toronto hospital.

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