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West, Texas, paramedic appears in court on pipe bomb charges

Paramedic Bryce Reed of West, Texas, shown in a booking photo Friday, faces federal charges of possessing an unregistered destructive device. Investigators found the makings of a pipe bomb in his home.
(McLennan County Sheriff’s Department)
<i>This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.</i>

HOUSTON -- A paramedic who responded to the massive explosion in West, Texas, last month faced charges on Friday after federal investigators discovered he had the makings of a pipe bomb, authorities said.

It was not clear whether his arrest, which happened late Thursday, was connected to the ongoing investigation of the April 17 explosion, which killed 14 people and wounded more than 160.

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West Paramedic Bryce Reed appeared Friday in federal court in the county seat of Waco, Texas, on federal charges of unlawfully possessing an unregistered destructive device, according to a statement released to the Los Angeles Times by U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman and ATF Special Agent in Charge Robert Champion.

Reed was appointed an attorney and did not enter a plea, court staff told The Times. That attorney, Waco-based lawyer Jonathan Sibley, did not return calls Friday.

Also, the judge initially sealed the complaint pending Reed’s first appearance, then unsealed it Friday. Reed appeared via videoconference, according to court records.

The charges were filed against Reed, 31, after McLennan County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched Tuesday to a residence in Abbott, Texas, where they discovered “an assortment of bomb-making components,” according to a federal criminal complaint filed Friday by the ATF.

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Reed apparently “admitted to possessing the components of the pipe bomb,” according to the complaint.

The bomb-making material included a 3.5-inch length of galvanized metal pipe with two galvanized end caps attached, one of which had a 1/8-inch hole drilled in it, according to the complaint. There were also canisters containing hobby fuse, a lighter, a digital scale, a plastic spoon, six coils of metal ribbon, and several pounds of chemical powders in individual bags, including: potassium nitrate, potassium perchlorate, aluminum powder, red iron oxide, ammonium perchlorate, sulfur powder, air float charcoal and Eckart 10890 German dark aluminum.

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An ATF chemist and explosives expert confirmed the components were bomb-making materials, according to the complaint.

Investigators determined that the resident “had unwittingly taken possession of the components from Reed” on April 26, nine days after the massive explosion that tore through West Fertilizer Plant in the close-knit town of 2,800 about 76 miles south of Dallas.

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Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Reed in West, according to the statement.

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

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It was not immediately clear Friday whether Reed’s arrest was connected to the plant explosion.

Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office, which has been investigating the explosion, told The Times that “Reed’s arrest is unrelated to the fertilizer plant fire and explosion.” Their investigation, however, is expected to last another week or two.

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So far, investigators know that ammonium nitrate detonated in the explosion, but they don’t know what caused the explosion, or the fire that preceded it, according to a statement.

Investigators have eliminated the following causes for the fire: weather, natural causes, anhydrous ammonium, the rail car containing ammonium nitrate, and a fire within the ammonium nitrate bin.

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McLennan County Sheriff’s officials released a statement late Friday noting that they had asked the Texas Rangers to assist them in investigating “any possible criminal acts and the tragic incident that occurred in West, Texas on 4/17.”

However, they noted that so far, “no evidence has been uncovered to indicate any connection to the events surrounding the fire and subsequent explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant and the arrest of Bryce Reed.”

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Federal officials declined to discuss possible links between the explosion and Reed’s case in their statement, saying, “At this time authorities will not speculate whether the possession of the unregistered destructive device has any connection to the West fertilizer plant explosion.”

Assistant U.S. Attys. Mark Frazier and Greg Gloff are prosecuting the case, but did not return calls Friday.

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Investigating agencies include the ATF, McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, West Police Department, Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Texas Department of Insurance Fraud Unit.

Reed is licensed by the state as an EMT/paramedic through August with no record of disciplinary action, said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which licenses EMS workers.

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Reed remained in federal custody Friday pending a detention hearing May 15 in Waco before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey C. Manske.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Times staff writer Cindy Carcamo contributed to this report.

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[For the record, 11:55 a.m., PDT May 11: An earlier version of this post misstated on first reference when Bryce Reed was arrested. He was arrested late Thursday, not Friday.]

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