West Fertilizer explosion ruled criminal act

A star sign with the words, West Is The Best, hangs on a fence that surrounds the perimeter of the property where a fertilizer plant once stood, Thursday, April 17, 2014, in West, Texas. Today marks the one year anniversary of the explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed fifteen people, including 12 volunteer firefighters and others responding to the fire, and more than 200 were injured. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
A star sign with the words, West Is The Best, hangs on a fence that surrounds the perimeter of the property where a fertilizer plant once stood, Thursday, April 17, 2014, in West, Texas. Today marks the one year anniversary of the explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed fifteen people, including 12 volunteer firefighters and others responding to the fire, and more than 200 were injured. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

WEST, Texas (KXAN) — State Fire Marshals have just announced the deadly West Fertilizer Plant explosion fire from April 2013 was a criminal act and ruled incendiary.

It’s been three years since an ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas. On April 17, 2013, 15 people died, 10 were first responders.

Wednesday, the Houston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office announced the origin and cause of the plant fire and explosion. At this time investigators have funneled over $2 million into the case and say they are on the right path to solving the West explosion. This is ATF’s largest investigation to date.

A wooden cross shows the names of the volunteer firefighters who lost their lives in the West explosion (KXAN Photo/ Robert Maxwell)
A wooden cross shows the names of the volunteer firefighters who lost their lives in the West explosion (KXAN Photo/ Robert Maxwell)

However, it is too early for investigators to say if murder charges await a suspect accused of starting the fire. So far no arrests have been made, but numerous leads have resulted from more than 500 interviews.

Anyone with any information about the explosion is asked to call (245)753-2457. There is up to a $52,000 reward waiting for information that leads to an arrest.

“In addition to 15 deaths, many others were injured. The explosion caused damage in a 37 block area. 500 homes were damaged. A crater 93 wide and 12 feet deep was created at the scene of the blast,” said Robert Elder with ATF.

Families whose homes were destroyed say it’s been difficult but they’ve made do.

“I sort of felt an emptiness, sort of a vacuum or something,” Dorothy Sykora remembers. Sykora and her husband Ed were feet away from the April explosion.

LIVES LOST IN THE EXPLOSION: 

  • Morris Bridges Jr., 41, WVFD
  • Perry Calvin, 37, VFD
  • Jerry Chapman, 26, VFD
  • Cody Dragoo, 50, WVFD
  • Kenneth Harris Jr, Captain FD
  • Joseph Pustejovsky, 29, WVFD
  • Cyrus Reed, 29, VFD
  • Kevin Sanders, 33, EMT
  • Robert Snokhous, 48, WVFD
  • Douglas Snokhous, 50, WVFD
  • Jimmy Mathus, 52
  • Buck Uptmor, 45
  • Mariano Saldivar, 57
  • Judith Monroe, 65
  • Adolph Lander, 96

“All the ceilings and everything came down, the ceiling split, then came down, and of course there’s all the insulation everywhere,” the Sykora’s say of their nearly 50-year-old home. That day, they lost more than just the structure, they lost nearly half a century of memories.

“Change is kind of difficult at our age we never expected to start over again,” Dorothy says.

A few bricks in the form of a cross are the only thing left from that home, it serves as a daily reminder of what they say is a blessing.

“We were fortunate to not have been hurt, you know, in the explosion,” Ed Sykora says.

Some in West expressed skepticism that it was deliberate. “Well I don’t believe that. I think it was an accident,” one woman said.

Another West resident, Judy Svrcek said, “I don’t think anybody in this town would do that.”

Questions remain from the explosion: who and why? It may be a while before we get those answers.

Father remembers son who died fighting fire

Phil Calvin says he only wanted the truth.

“The longer I thought about it, the madder I got,” he said. His son Perry died in the explosion, fighting a fire that now everyone has been told was started by someone, intentionally. ‘They can talk about terrorism in a lot of different ways, but to me it is terrorism,” Calvin says.

Regardless of what happened or how it happened, the plant will still be blamed in a courtroom.

An attorney for the plaintiffs released a statement saying the ATF investigation did not look into how ammonium nitrate was stored: not what exploded or how it exploded.

Some of the lawsuits have been settled, others are still pending, not just against the plant but the fertilizer manufacturers.

Ironically, the Adair Grain plant is a plaintiff in a lawsuit, they counter-sued against the fertilizer manufacturers.

All of this is unfolding in McLennan County. The next court date is July 25.

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