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Subway Chaos Marked Only Latest Pressure Cooker Scare

The Fulton Street station in Manhattan, on Aug. 19, 2019.
The Fulton Street station in Manhattan, on Aug. 19, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The morning commute wrecked Friday by a pair of rice cookers allegedly planted in a Lower Manhattan transit hub wasn’t the first subway scare set off by kitchenware.

Internal MTA incident records obtained by THE CITY show that since 2014, more than 450 reports of suspicious packages in or around subway stations caused train delays, reroutings or evacuations.

Pressure cookers — or devices thought to be pressure cookers — have been flagged at least five times since August 2017.

“The MTA invented the phrase ‘If you see something, say something,’ and that’s exactly what we instruct everyone to do,” said Shams Tarek, an MTA spokesperson.

Sources told THE CITY that as of Friday, there have been 20 “suspicious package” incidents in 2019, including one in March that delayed M train service because of an empty shoe box taken off a subway car at 34th Street-Herald Square.

Still, that’s down from the 62 suspicious package reports filed in all of 2018, the 61 in 2017 and far below the 122 logged in 2016.

Spokespersons for the MTA and the NYPD declined to discuss what might be behind the decline in subway incident reports linked to suspicious packages.

Fifth-Busiest Station Targeted

On Friday, thousands of riders on 344 trains along the 1/2/3/4/5/6/A/C/J lines were snagged by what turned out to be two rice cookers.

Police on Saturday charged Larry K. Griffin II with placing a false bomb after the 26-year-old West Virginia man allegedly ditched two cookers near the 2/3 train platform at Fulton Street and another on West 16th Street.

A pair of Transit Bureau officers were alerted about a suspicious package inside the Fulton Center, a hub with eight lines that is the fifth-busiest subway station in the city and sits in the shadow of the World Trade Center.

Among the recent suspicious packages:

• A black backpack delayed 18 trains on Aug. 11 after ending up on the tracks of the 72nd Street stop of the Second Avenue Subway.

• A bag with three pipes, a wire and a timer that the NYPD Bomb Squad removed Aug. 4 from Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue stop at Eastern Parkway. The bag was blown up outside the station as a precaution.

• A gray metal box that caused the F train’s 179th Street stop in Queens to be evacuated for more than an hour on May 29.

“If I see something peculiar in the subway, I would alert the authorities immediately and think nothing of it,” said David Banks, 54, of Brooklyn, who travels daily through the 2/3 train stop at Fulton Street. “You have to let the authorities do what they have to do.”

‘Everyone is Cautious’

Paul Navarro, director of subway safety for Transport Workers Union Local 100, said transit workers receive “tons” of suspicious package reports.

“I always say we’re not first responders, but we respond first,” Navarro said. “We have to think about a lot of things — customer safety, evacuating people.”

A 2018 MTA incident report documenting a train disruption due to a pressure cooker. Photo: Obtained by THE CITY

John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, cited the 2016 blast in Chelsea of a homemade pressure cooker bomb for raising public awareness about the devices.

“People know what they are looking for — they are swift to alert police,” he said Friday.

The potential presence of pressure cookers was cited repeatedly in MTA incident reports obtained by THE CITY.

In November 2018, an R train crew searched each subway car at the Court Street stop but came up empty-handed after being instructed by dispatch to look for an unattended pressure cooker based on a tip.

In an April 2018 incident, D train service was suspended for nearly 90 minutes between 205th Street and 161st Street because a “white bag with a pressure cooker in it” was found on the tracks.

In February 2018, a pressure cooker left behind at the Delancey Street/Essex Street subway complex caused F, J and M trains to bypass the area for more than an hour while police investigated.

And in August 2017, the NYPD bomb squad removed a bag containing a pressure cooker from the First Avenue stop along the L line, a scare that forced trains to bypass the station in both directions for an hour.

“Everyone is cautious,” said Pedro Alix, 53, who was waiting for a 3 train at Fulton Street. “Anyone who rides the subway knows when they see or hear something that’s out of the ordinary.”

“If it’s for safety, I can wait,” said subway rider Betty Ludd, 71, of Harlem.

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