Monday, May 13, 2013

Stakes high in Sheriff's, Rangers' probe of explosion

Too much monkey business, look-see pidgin

“My brother lived his dash...” – Bryce Reed's eulogy of West Volunteer Fire Capt. Cyrus Adam Reed

Waco – For the eyes of Texas, the stakes have never been higher than the way they stand today, as elements of the Texas Rangers and the McLennan County Sheriff's Office begin an exacting investigation of the fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Co.

Investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives turned the criminal probe over to sheriff's officers, Texas Rangers and State Fire Marshal's Office investigators of the State Board of Insurance late last week after they made the splashy arrest in an unrelated matter of a first responder who survived the fire and blast.

Top investigators and administrators working the case for the state were surprised when the ATF suddenly arrested Emergency Medical Technician Bryce Reed for the federal offense of possession of a destructive device – a pipe bomb and various explosive components that a nervous confidential informant found in some materials Mr. Reed had stashed at an Abbott location, just across the Hill County line.

It hasn't been a pleasant liaison, working with ATF investigators, according to Chief Deputy Matt Cawthon, a former Texas Ranger.

“I had just gotten them calmed down,” he said in a rueful tone, “when, here we found this pipe bomb at Abbott.”

He assured The Legendary that the materials confiscated by patrol officers of the McLennan Sheriff's Department consisted of both an assembled pipe bomb, and such components as a hobby detonator, batteries, wires, powdered aluminum, various explosive chemicals, and the blasting agent, ammonium nitrate, as listed in the federal probable cause affidavit.

No sooner than the materials were located and confiscated as evidence, said Deputy Cawthon, than a short time later, there came the announcement that ATF agents were charging Mr. Reed with the federal offense.

“We could have handled the pipe bomb thing in a totally different way...They're trying to connect that with the explosion at the fertilizer plant...

“You see, there are two separate things,” he said.
“What I told ATF was, 'You don't really know what the long-term implications could be.'”

At present, there is no evidence there is any connection between the
the charged offense of possession of a destructive device, and the disastrous explosion that led to 15 deaths – 12 of them first responders who turned out to battle the blazing ammonium nitrate – damage to 200 homes, and injuries to more than 300 persons who were in the blast zone at the time of the explosion.

All this has a tremendous impact on the future of those families.

“If ATF and the insurance companies label this as an act of terrorism, there is a good chance the insurance companies won't pay off on their policies. It's just like flood insurance; most policies, which most people have them on their homes, won't pay off on a flood, and they won't pay off on an act of terrorism, either.”

According to a spokeswoman, the Fire Marshal's Office has ruled out weather-related causes, an anhydrous ammonia leak, ammonium nitrate, and ammonium nitrate in a rail car.

The reality confronting his officers and the Texas Rangers is much, much different, the seasoned Ranger, Chief Deputy Matt Cawthon said.

“I've got a stack of reports dating back to the seventies that include all kind of stuff that happened at the fertilizer company.”

Thieves pulled capers that were hard to understand, such as the bizarre case reported as the theft of "a bag of Oreo cookies," said Deputy Cawthon.

In many other unsolved, open cases, as much as 150 pounds of fertilizer grade anhydrous ammonia, a highly prized and tightly controlled component used in making illicit methamphetamines, disappeared on a routine basis. Thieves left leaking valves on ammonia tanks with the frequency of no less than every third night, according to the materials compiled over the years.

It's just as surprising that no one was ever charged with the crimes. “That will show you what kind of District Attorney we had at the time...,” said Deputy Cawthon.

In a standard, deductive method, “We'll be sifting through all those, looking at evidence and statements made by the complainants and witnesses.”

That's not all.

“Us and the Rangers are going to look into every cranny and aspect of Bryce Reed's life for anything that will lead us to an understanding of where he was and what he was doing, as events unfolded...”

At least part of those events included a past which, by his own admission, included a fascination with making things blow up and go ka-boom.

He regaled a gathering of 10,000 people at an emotional memorial service for his fallen comrades about how his close personal friend, West Volunteer Fire Captain Cyrus Adam Reed, once made an aerosol can of Cheeze Whiz explode, leaving ropy gobs of the sticky processed snack food clinging to the patio furniture and back porch at the family home.

As he described the event, the grand stands of Baylor University's Ferrell Center filled with nervous titters. It was a bizarre attempt to humorize a particularly macabre boys will be boys moment, jocularly described as a charming incident in a long history of such pursuits.

In published reports, his attorney, Jonathan Sibley, has told newsmen Mr. Reed will plead not guilty at his court arraignment on Wednesday for the federal charge of possession of a destructive device.
ATF Violent Crime Bureau

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