Former West paramedic sentenced to federal prison

Posted Wednesday, Dec. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A former paramedic in West, where a fertilizer plant explosion killed 15 people, was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to conspiring to make an unregistered firearm, a case that authorities have not linked to the blast.

Bryce Reed cried as he repeatedly apologized in federal court for collecting a metal pipe and chemicals that could have been used to make an explosive and then trying to hide the materials from authorities after the April 17 explosion.

Reed has never been blamed by authorities for the explosion at West Fertilizer Co., where a fire detonated stores of ammonium nitrate in a blast that caved in homes and schools that were blocks away.

He made himself something of a representative for West shortly after the blast, speaking on national television and reassuring displaced residents that they were safe.

Reed pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to make an unregistered firearm and attempting to obstruct justice. He and his attorney, Jonathan Sibley, said he loved pyrotechnics and explosives but never intended to harm anyone.

“It was just more of a stupid mistake by a couple of guys who live out in the country,” Sibley told U.S. District Judge Walter Smith.

Reed described his actions as a “horrific and terrible mistake.”

“There’s nothing I can say to repair my life,” Reed said Wednesday as his mother, stepfather and siblings watched from the gallery.

Smith sentenced Reed to 21 months on each count, with the sentences to run concurrently, followed by three years of supervised release.

In court and in an interview before the hearing, Reed expressed his regret to the residents of West, where he was a paramedic and lived with his now-estranged wife and their young daughter. He said he felt he could no longer go back there.

“I can’t tell you what it’s like to have your face associated with the worst day of your life, and to be blamed for something that you didn’t do,” Reed told The Associated Press. “I lost my job. I lost my town. … I lost my wife, and she took my kid. And that was all in a four-day period.”

Reed admitted to searching the Internet last December for “explosives,” “explosions,” “explosive ingredients” and “instructions for making explosives,” prosecutors said. A federal complaint stated that after the blast, Reed gave the materials he had collected to a friend, who called authorities after realizing what Reed placed in his possession.

His arrest in May came as the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office were nearing a dead end in their effort to identify the blast’s cause. The day he was arrested, the Texas Rangers and the McLennan County sheriff announced they would begin their own criminal investigation.

Neither effort has led to any charges.

Also, it later came out that Reed had misled people about what he saw the night of the blast and how close he was with one of the first responders who died. Reed was dismissed by West’s EMS service a few days after the explosion.

Asked about what he said right after the blast, Reed told the AP that people who lost loved ones in the blast were able to persevere better than he has.

“I’m just not that strong,” Reed said.

In May, state and federal authorities in May officially declared the cause of the fire “undetermined,” listing three possible causes: a problem with one of West Fertilizer’s electrical systems, a battery-powered golf cart and a criminal act. Their investigation remains open.

Meanwhile, residents and officials in West continue to rebuild homes, and construction on new permanent school buildings is expected to start soon.

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