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Third Guilty Plea Expected In Explosives Case

Thu, 10/03/2013 - 2:22pm
Holbrook Mohr, Associated Press

An explosives recycling company employee is expected to plead guilty this month in the investigation into the handling of millions of pounds of military propellant blamed for the evacuation of a Louisiana town, a district attorney said Thursday.

Explo Systems Inc. had a multimillion-dollar military contract to dismantle propelling charges used to fire artillery rounds. The company is charged with haphazardly storing the material on space leased at Camp Minden, a Louisiana National Guard installation in north Louisiana's Webster Parish.

Quality service manager Michael Kile would be the third employee to plead guilty in the case, according to District Attorney Schuyler Marvin.

Marvin, the district attorney for Webster and Bossier parishes, said Kile is expected to plead guilty on Oct. 25.

Kile's lawyer, Stephen Glassell, was in court Thursday and did not immediately respond to a phone message.

The company and six people, including owners David Fincher of Burns, Tenn., and David Smith of Winchester, Ky., were charged in the case. The owners and a manager deny wrongdoing.

Two of the employees, inventory control manager Lionel Koons and plant engineer Todd Dietrich, have already pleaded guilty to reduced charges and agreed to testify against the others, Marvin said. Their attorneys did not immediately respond to messages Thursday.

An explosion at Camp Minden in October 2012 led to the investigation. A Louisiana State Police investigator later discovered what authorities considered millions of pounds of an improperly stored propellant called M6, leading to the evacuation of nearby Doyline, the town known as the backdrop for the TV series "True Blood."

Koons and Dietrich pleaded guilty on Aug. 23 to one misdemeanor count each of careless use of explosives, Marvin said.

Marvin said Thursday in a telephone interview that they were sentenced to suspended jail terms as part of the agreement. They must serve two years of probation and are prohibited from working with explosives during that time.

They are expected to testify that the company was violating its own policies and procedures and that the owners were aware that Explo was taking on more product than it could properly store, Marvin said.

Fincher and Smith, Explo's owners, have filed a motion to quash the indictment, saying the propellant should not be classified as an explosive. A hearing on that motion and others is scheduled for Feb. 13.

Fincher's attorney, Ron Miciotto, said Thursday that his client is innocent and that a renowned expert will testify that M6 is not an explosive.

Miciotto said he expects the defendants to be cleared of the charges and they're "just looking forward to trying the case."

Marvin and the investigators in the case disagree with that expert's assessment, and are making plans to incinerate millions of pounds of M6 because they don't know that else to do with it.

"It's the stuff that makes a bomb go off, in our opinion," Marvin said.

Attorneys for Smith and William Terry Wright, vice president of operations, did not immediately respond to messages.

Authorities said the M6 should have been stored in certified magazines — sometimes called bunkers — but some of it was found in boxes stacked in buildings or hidden among trees outside on the base. Some of the containers were spilling open, authorities said.

Authorities feared any ignition — like a brush fire or lightning — could set off a massive chain reaction, threatening Doyline. Its 800 residents were put under a voluntary evacuation order for several days in December.

State police monitored the movement of the material into certified bunkers, which took months and required the National Guard to provide additional space at the installation.

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