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Texas officials launch criminal investigation into deadly fertilizer plant explosion

A chemical fire fueled by pesticides and fertilizers continues to burn next to a strawberry farm during an out-of-control wildfire on May 2, 2013 in Camarillo, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The West Fertilizer Company lies in ruins, as seen from the air, on April 18, 2013 in West, Texas. Fourteen people, including 10 first responders, were killed and at least 200 were injured when the plant caught fire and exploded the previous day.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(CBS/AP) - 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.

PICTURES: Texas fertilizer plant explosion

The announcement came the same day that a paramedic who helped to evacuate residents the night of the explosion was arrested on a charge of possessing a destructive device, though authorities emphasized there was no evidence to link the arrest to the April 17 blast at West Fertilizer Co., CBS affiliate KWTX reported.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said in a Friday statement that the agency had instructed the Texas Rangers and the McLennan County 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.

Officials have largely treated the 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.

Paramedic Bryce Reed, meanwhile, was in federal custody following his arrest on the charge of possessing a destructive device. A federal affidavit alleged the Reed admitted to possessing components of a pipe bomb, which were discovered at the home of an Abbott resident who had "had unwittingly taken possession of the components from Reed on April 26," the affidavit said, according to KWTX.

Reed, a volunteer paramedic, delivered part of a videotaped eulogy for a firefighter who died in the explosion during a public memorial service last month for West's fallen first responders, reports the station.

  • Crimesider Staff

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