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Texas paramedic pleads not guilty to pipe bomb charge

By Lisa Maria Garza

WACO, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas paramedic who responded to a fertilizer plant explosion last month pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to possessing pipe bomb components, his lawyer said, after agreeing to postpone his detention hearing.

A hearing for Bryce Reed scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Waco was canceled, Daryl Fields, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Texas, said in a statement.

Reed, 31, faces one count of unlawfully possessing an unregistered destructive device, and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in Waco on Tuesday, Fields said.

Reed entered a plea of not guilty, said his lawyer, Jonathan Sibley.

Lawyers for the prosecution and defense agreed on Wednesday that Reed would postpone his detention hearing, waive his arraignment, enter a not guilty plea and remain in federal custody, Fields said.

Reed was among the first to respond to the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people and injured about 200 in the town of West. Texas officials on Friday announced a criminal probe into the blast.

The McLennan County Sheriff's office said last week that no evidence linked Reed's arrest to the plant disaster, and the U.S. attorney's office said last week that authorities would not speculate on whether there was any connection.

Sibley told reporters on Wednesday that he is frustrated that federal officials have not said definitively that Reed's arrest is not connected to the explosion.

STRONGER STATEMENT

"There needs to be a stronger statement from federal agencies who said they won't speculate," he said outside the federal courthouse in Waco. "It's unfair because there's no evidence linking him to what happened in West on April 17."

Federal prosecutors said in court papers on Friday that authorities had found a section of pipe 3-1/2 inches long and 1-1/2 inches in diameter, end caps, fuses and explosive powder this month at a home in Abbott, Texas, a town near West.

They said the resident of that home, whom they did not identify, told police the components came from Reed, who was arrested on Thursday.

"We haven't even had a chance to see the proof yet," Sibley said. "I don't think there's any evidence showing he's a danger to the community."

Reed was a volunteer emergency medical technician but was relieved of his role on April 19, two days after the blast, according to an email sent to the Texas Department of State Health Services on Friday by an administrator for West's emergency medical services.

Reed had no history of complaints or disciplinary action filed against him with the state, said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the health services department. No reason was given in the email for his dismissal.

Reed faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Investigators are expected to announce on Thursday the results of a probe into what caused the explosion, a state agency said on Tuesday.

The State Fire Marshal's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will release the findings of their joint investigation at a news conference, according to a news release from the fire marshal's office.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Bob Burgdorfer, Gary Hill, Kevin Gray and Mohammad Zargham)

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