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October 10, 2013

Attorney: Ex-West medic reaches plea agreement

The Associated Press

WEST, Texas — A former West paramedic arrested after the town's deadly fertilizer plant explosion on unrelated allegations that he collected pipe-bomb materials has reached an agreement to plead guilty, his attorney said Wednesday.

Bryce Ashley Reed became one of his town's most outspoken voices after the April blast, so his arrest, which came during the investigation into the explosion, shocked town residents and garnered attention. But authorities never accused Reed of having any role in the blast.

Reed's attorney, Jonathan Sibley, asked a federal judge for the rest of the day Wednesday to finalize a plea agreement with a federal prosecutor ahead of a Thursday court appearance in Waco. Sibley said in a phone interview that Reed would plead guilty Thursday.

Prosecutor Mark Frazier did not return a phone message Wednesday.

Authorities accused Reed in a criminal complaint of giving a metal pipe, chemical powders and other materials to an unknown person who contacted authorities. Reed, 31, previously pleaded not guilty to one count of knowingly and unlawfully possessing a destructive device.

Sibley declined to specify the charge to which Reed would plead guilty or the recommended sentencing range his client will face.

The blast at West Fertilizer Co. on April 17 killed 15 people, including 10 first responders and two others volunteering to fight an initial fire.

Reed's arrest shook West, a close-knit town where he was well-known. In the days immediately after the blast, Reed told victims' families and residents that they were safe and offered information to media about what had happened — even as federal and state authorities declined to answer many questions and other first responders clammed up.

After his arrest, documents released by a regional EMS organization showed that Reed had been dismissed from his volunteer position as a West firefighter two days after the blast. And the family of a firefighter who died in the blast, Cyrus Reed, would disavow claims that Bryce Reed made in media interviews and at a public memorial that the two men were like brothers, either in blood or in friendship.

Reed was released on $25,000 bond in August and was ordered to stay with his mother, who lives in suburban Dallas. Reed was scheduled to go to trial Oct. 15.

The federal arrest prompted state and local authorities to open their own, separate criminal investigation. But neither federal nor state authorities have accused anyone of committing a crime related to the explosion.

"If there was anything out there that anybody had linking Bryce Reed to the West Fertilizer plant, then five months later, at this stage ... we would have seen something about that," Sibley said Wednesday.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
The Texas State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declared the cause of the blast as "undetermined" one month after it happened. The fire marshal's investigation remains open. They agencies said they could narrow the number of possible causes to three: a problem with one of the plant's electrical systems, a battery-powered golf cart and a criminal act.