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Texas starts criminal probe in plant blast

WACO, Texas -- Texas law enforcement officials yesterday 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 as 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 yesterday 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.

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

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said residents "must have confidence that this incident has been looked at from every angle and professionally handled."

He 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 yesterday said he was arrested after McLennan deputies were called earlier this week to a home about five miles from West and found bomb-making materials -- including a galvanized metal pipe, canisters filled with fuses and a variety of chemical powders.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives linked the materials to Reed. An ATF specialist and a chemist examined the items and agreed the "combination of parts can be readily assembled into a destructive device," an ATF complaint says.

Reed appeared in federal court in Waco yesterday but did not enter a plea.

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