Texas first responder to plead not guilty to pipe bomb charge

Posted at 2:05 PM, May 11, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-11 16:05:08-04

From David Mattingly

(CNN) — An emergency responder to last month’s deadly Texas fertilizer plant explosion will plead not guilty to the charge of having possessed materials for a pipe bomb, his lawyer said Saturday.

Bryce Reed will enter that plea on Wednesday at a federal court hearing, lawyer Jonathan Sibley said.

“We have not been able to obtain specific information about the extent of the allegations, but Mr. Reed anxiously awaits his day in court and his opportunity to address these allegations,” Sibley said in a statement.

Authorities said Friday they were launching a criminal investigation into last month’s blast in the town of West, but have not said whether Reed’s arrest is connected.

Local sheriff’s deputies were called on Tuesday to a residence where they found components for a pipe bomb, according to a criminal complaint affidavit.

The officers determined that Reed had given the materials to the resident of that home last month, the complaint says.

Among the materials found were a galvanized metal pipe, a fuse, coils of metal ribbon and several bags of chemical powders, it adds.

Reed, who was arrested early Friday, is charged with possession of a destructive device.

“At this time authorities will not speculate whether the possession of the unregistered destructive device has any connection to the West fertilizer plant explosion,” the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Texas said in a release.

But Sibley addressed “speculation” that the allegation was related to the April 17 incident, which killed 14 in the town of West. “Let me be very clear,” the defense lawyer said in the statement. “Mr. Reed had no involvement whatsoever in the explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant.”

Reed himself lost friends and family in the disaster “and remains resolute in his desire to assist in the rebuilding of his community,” Sibley said, cautioning against any rush to judgment.

If convicted, Reed would face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Reed spoke last month at a memorial for the victims at Baylor University.

The arrest details came as authorities said they were conducting a criminal investigation into the fire and explosion.

“This disaster has severely impacted the community of West, and we want to ensure that no stone goes unturned and that all the facts related to this incident are uncovered,” DPS Director Steven McCraw said.

On Monday, the state fire marshal’s office said it had ruled out weather, other natural causes, anhydrous ammonium and ammonium nitrate in a rail car as possible causes.

The fire began in the fertilizer and seed building; the blast happened about 20 minutes after the first report of a fire at the fertilizer facility. It registered on seismographs as a magnitude-2.1 earthquake and could be felt 50 miles away.

The explosion damaged numerous homes, a nursing home and the town’s high school and middle school, all of which had been built within a few hundred feet of the plant. West is about 70 miles south-southwest of Dallas.

At least 60 investigators have been on site each day and have conducted 411 interviews in trying to determine how the fire started and what caused the explosion.

West Fertilizer Co., which operated the facility, had been cited by federal regulators twice since 2006.

In 2012, the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration fined West Fertilizer $5,250 for storing anhydrous ammonia in tanks that lacked the proper warning labels. The agency had originally recommended a $10,000 penalty, but reduced it after the company took corrective action.

In 2006, the EPA fined the company $2,300 and told the owners to correct problems that included a failure to file a risk management program plan on time.

That same year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated a complaint that the area around the plant smelled of ammonia.

CNN’s Brian Carberry and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report

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