Criminal probe opened into Texas explosion
Paramedic who helped to evacuate residents arrested after bomb-making materials found
Paramedic Bryce Reed has been arrested for possession of an explosive device, a federal official said yesterday. Photograph: McClennan County Sheriff’s Office/Reuters
The Texas fertilizer plant that exploded two weeks ago, killing 14 people and injuring about 200, was a repeat target of theft by intruders who tampered with tanks and caused the release of toxic chemicals. Photograph: Tom Reel/Pool
A criminal investigation has been launched into the massive Texas fertiliser plant explosion that killed 14 people, after weeks of largely treating the blast as an industrial accident.
The announcement came on the same day US government agents said they found bomb-making materials belonging to a paramedic who helped evacuate residents on the night of the explosion.
Bryce Reed was arrested yesterday for possessing a destructive device, but law enforcement officials said they had not linked the charge to the April 17th fire and blast at West Fertiliser Company, near Waco.
“It is important to emphasise that at this point, no evidence has been uncovered to indicate any connection to the events surrounding the fire and subsequent explosion ... and the arrest of Bryce Reed by the ATF,” the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said earlier that the agency had instructed the Texas Rangers and the sheriff’s department to conduct a criminal probe into the explosion.
The agencies will join the State Fire Marshall’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which have been leading the investigation and never ruled out that a crime may have been committed.
McLennan County sheriff Parnell McNamara said residents “must have confidence that this incident has been looked at from every angle and professionally handled — they deserve nothing less”.
The statement did not give any further reasons for the criminal investigation and said no additional information would be released.
Mr Reed is in custody and a criminal complaint said he was arrested after McLennan County deputies were called earlier this week to a home in Abbott, a town about five miles from West, and found bomb-making materials — including a galvanised metal pipe, canisters filled with fuses, a lighter, a digital scale and a variety of chemical powders.
“After further investigation, it was determined that the resident had unwittingly taken possession of the components from Reed on April 26th,” said the complaint signed by ATF special agent Douglas Kunze.
An ATF explosives specialist and a chemist examined the items and agreed the “combination of parts can be readily assembled into a destructive device”, the complaint says.
M r Reed made an initial appearance in federal court in Waco, but did not enter a plea.
Officials have largely treated the West explosion as an industrial accident, though investigators still searching for the cause of a fire that preceded the blast have said they would treat the area as a crime scene until all possibilities were considered.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office said it decided to continue pursuing a criminal probe because about 250 leads had developed and more than 400 people had been interviewed.
Authorities have focused on ammonium nitrate, a chemical commonly used as a fertiliser, but that also can be explosive in the right conditions, as the cause of the explosion.
Reed was one of several paramedics who helped evacuate residents from nearby apartments after the fire erupted and shortly before the explosion.
He said at the time he was devastated by the explosion, which he said killed one of his closest friends, Cyrus Reed — no relation. Bryce Reed eulogised the firefighter at his funeral.
Bryce Reed was working as a West paramedic on the night of the explosion, but he was “let go” two days later, according to an email that a regional EMS group sent to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
His wife, Brittany Reed, declined to comment yesterday.