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Authorities launch criminal investigation of West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion

Hours after a paramedic in West, Tex., was taken into federal custody on Friday for unlawful possession of a “destructive device,” the Texas Department of Public Safety and the McLennan County sheriff said they are launching a criminal investigation into the fertilizer plant explosion there last month that killed 14 people.

But officials declined to draw a link between the arrest of the paramedic, 31-year-old Bryce Reed, and the disaster.

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

Reed remains in custody in Waco, Tex., officials said, pending a detention hearing Wednesday. If convicted, Reed faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

According to the federal complaint, McLennan County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a residence in the nearby town of Abbott on Thursday, where they found “an assortment of bomb-making components” that the resident had “unwittingly” been given by Reed on April 26, nine days after the explosion.

The affidavit filed with the complaint said the components included a galvanized metal pipe, a hobby fuse, a lighter and several pounds of chemical powders — ingredients for a pipe bomb.

State and county officials did not mention Reed in announcing their investigation.

“The citizens of McLennan County and Texas must have confidence that this incident has been looked at from every angle and professionally handled — they deserve nothing less,” McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said in a news release.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has led an investigation into the explosion since shortly after the incident on April 17. Asked Friday morning whether the investigation had turned up evidence that the fire was not accidental, Franceska Perot, a spokeswoman at the ATF, said no.

At a hearing at the state Capitol on May 1, Kelly Kistner, the assistant state fire marshal, said investigators had not shut out the possibility of terrorism or criminal activity.

— McClatchey-Tribune


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