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Paramedic who responded to Texas blast arrested

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Michael Ainsworth/The Dallas Morning News / AP

A fire burns at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas after an explosion Wednesday April 17, 2013.

Updated Friday, May 10, 2013 | 2:06 p.m.

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Aftermath

Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013.  A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight.  (AP Photo/LM Otero) Launch slideshow »

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

A fire burns at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas after an explosion Wednesday April 17, 2013. Launch slideshow »

WACO, Texas — Texas law enforcement officials on Friday launched a criminal investigation into the massive fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people last month, after weeks of largely treating the blast as an industrial accident.

The announcement came the same day federal agents said they found bomb-making materials belonging to a paramedic who helped evacuate residents the night of the explosion. Bryce Reed was arrested early Friday on a charge of possessing a destructive device, but law enforcement officials said they had not linked the charge to the April 17 fire and blast at West Fertilizer Co.

"It is important to emphasize 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 in a statement.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said earlier Friday that the agency had instructed the Texas Rangers and the sheriff's department to conduct a criminal probe into the 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.

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 detail any further reasons for the criminal investigation and said no additional information would be released.

Reed, meanwhile, was in federal custody. A criminal complaint unsealed Friday afternoon 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 galvanized 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 26," says the complaint signed by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 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.

Reed made an initial appearance in federal court in Waco on Friday, 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. Authorities have focused on ammonium nitrate, a chemical commonly used as a fertilizer, 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 has spoken to The Associated Press extensively, and said he was devastated by the explosion, which he said killed one of his closest friends, Cyrus Reed. Bryce Reed eulogized the firefighter at his funeral; the two are not related.

Bryce Reed's wife, Brittany Reed, declined to comment early Friday.

"I can't. No comment, no comment no comment right now," she said before hanging up the phone.

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  1. There were little or no security fences around the West fertilizer plant. It had a history of tampering and theft of chemical components such as anhydrous ammonia, the liquid gas used to cook methamphetamine, the addictive and illicit stimulant.

    This is not uncommon for fertilizer plants in Texas which are located in small towns and laid back environments.

    Documents from the Texas Department of State Health Services show the West plant was storing 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia in 2012 under minimal to no security.

    Many more fertilizer plants around the state also have very lax security conditions, making them easy targets for picking up large quantities of ammonium nitrate on the sly, the fuel Timothy McVeigh used.

    Low regulation, low taxes, low overhead - and the public eventually pays dearly.

  2. Yes, lets heavily regulate, heavily tax, and heavily regulate every single last fertilizer plant in the nation. Yes, that's absolutely the answer to every problem the fearful have, now isn't it?

  3. oops .. a typo there...

    Yes, lets heavily regulate, heavily tax, and heavily burden every single last fertilizer plant in the nation. Yes, that's absolutely the answer to every problem the fearful have, now isn't it?