By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One week after a security panic threw Los Angeles International Airport into gridlock, a police traffic stop on Sunday outside an LAX baggage-claim area triggered a smaller-scale upheaval that led to the evacuation of a passenger terminal.
The latest incident, which occurred during the busy Labor Day holiday weekend, began when a motorist stopped illegally in a bus lane in front of Terminal 3, and police pulled up behind him, ran the car's license plate and found it was a stolen vehicle, police spokesman Rob Pedregon said.
In the process of arresting the driver, LAX police moved pedestrian traffic off sidewalks and back into the baggage-claim area inside as a safety precaution.
But the commotion apparently spooked some passengers, prompting a couple of dozen to rush past a security checkpoint into the "sterile" screening area, while about 15 others bolted through an emergency exit onto the airfield, police said.
Authorities quickly rounded up the wayward passengers and moved them back into a public area. But as a result of the security breach, the entire terminal was evacuated while offices with bomb-sniffing dogs swept the facility, Pedregon said.
As of 12:30 p.m. (3.30 p.m. ET), about 3-1/2 hours after the incident began, the terminal was deemed secure again, and operations in Terminal 3 were returning to normal, according to police.
An airport spokesman said 18 flights were delayed - nine inbound and nine outbound - and none was canceled.
Pedregon said lingering jitters from last week's airport-wide pandemonium were likely a factor in Sunday's event at America's second-busiest airport.
The Aug. 28 incident started with police confronting a man in baggage claim dressed in a black cape and mask and carrying what turned out to be a plastic sword, followed in short order by false reports of gunfire at adjacent terminal gates.
That shooting scare, amplified by word of mouth and social media, sent hundreds of passengers scurrying through security checkpoints and out onto the tarmac at five LAX terminals.
Police shut down motor traffic throughout the airport for nearly three hours, and nearly 300 incoming and outbound flights were delayed.
Last Sunday night's LAX panic came two months after a similar incident at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where reports of gunfire turned out to be a false alarm.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney)