Modesto police closed a busy intersection west of downtown Wednesday while they investigated a bizarre case that started as a shooting, turned into a crash and ended with a bomb squad operation.
Several people called to report shots fired at 11:40 a.m. near the corner of Fifth and I streets, said Sgt. Rick Applegate.
He said the occupants of a silver Saturn opened fire on an individual standing outside a home on I Street as the Saturn turned left from the Arco gas station at Fifth and I. No one was hit in the gunfire.
The Saturn then struck two cars, including a Toyota driven by Ellis Young, who said he was sitting at the stoplight, ready to turn right onto Fifth Street, when he heard about six shots ring out.
"I was just on my way to get a birthday cake for my son," Young said. He said he was shaken but unhurt in the incident.
Police say three occupants of the Saturn ran from the car. Applegate said investigators detained one of them, 20-year-old Devon Dunn of Salida, who was determined to be the driver. He was cited and released for misdemeanor hit and run but not charged with any crime related to the shooting because no victim came forward and no gun was located.
In the trunk of the Saturn, which sat in the middle of the intersection, authorities found a box with fuses inside and something that appeared to be an explosive device. They expanded the crime scene and called out the Stanislaus County bomb squad.
The bomb squad deployed a robot, but couldn't get a good picture of what was in the box. A deputy in a bomb suit went in for a closer look and found what authorities called a ground burst simulator, commonly used in Civil War re-enactments or by the military to create loud noises similar to gunshots or cannon fire.
Applegate said the device isn't illegal, but added, "I definitely don't think the people in this car that were involved in a gunbattle in midday in downtown were going to use it for any type of purpose besides something heinous."
Investigators were trying to determine whether the person on the street fired back at the car. Applegate said police found eight shell casings from a small-caliber handgun.
Police closed the intersection, a major route to southbound Highway 99, for about three hours during the investigation.
Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.
Scenes of shooting, bomb squad incident in Modesto