WACO, Texas – A former Texas paramedic who was among the most vocal first responders in a deadly fertilizer plant blast pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges that he collected materials for a pipe bomb.
In a deal with prosecutors, Bryce Ashley Reed pleaded guilty in federal court in Waco to one count of conspiracy to make a destructive device and another count of attempting to obstruct justice, according to court documents. The agreement heads off an Oct. 15 trial for Reed.
The 31-year-old former West paramedic was never linked by authorities to any criminal responsibility for the April 17 blast in his close-knit hometown where he is well-known. The explosion at West Fertilizer Co. killed 15 people, including 10 first responders and two others volunteering to fight an initial fire.
But his arrest and the allegations leveled by federal authorities shook West. In the days immediately after the blast, he told victims' families and residents that they were safe and offered information about what had happened, even as federal and state authorities declined to answer many questions and other first responders clammed up.
Days after his May 9 arrest, it came out that Reed had been dismissed from his volunteer position as a West firefighter. The family of a firefighter who died in the blast, Cyrus Reed, would disavow Bryce Reed's claims -- in interviews and at a public memorial -- that the two men were like brothers, either in blood or in friendship.
A criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives accused Reed of giving a metal pipe, chemical powders and other materials to an unknown person who contacted authorities.
The federal arrest prompted state and local authorities to open their own criminal investigation. But neither federal nor state authorities have accused anyone of committing a crime related to the explosion.
The Texas State Fire Marshal and the ATF declared the cause of the blast as "undetermined" one month after it happened. They said they could narrow the number of possible causes to three: a problem with an electrical system, a battery-powered golf cart and a criminal act.