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Ex-paramedic in Texas fertilizer blast pleads guilty to conspiracy

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) - A former paramedic who responded to a deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant in April pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges of obstructing justice and conspiracy to make a destructive device, court documents filed on Thursday show.

Bryce Reed, 31, made his plea in exchange for the dismissal of a charge of trying to create a pipe bomb. That charge was made just weeks after he responded as a paramedic to a deadly April 17 fertilizer plant blast in West, Texas. He is currently free on bond.

Reed's arrest in May, which officials said was unrelated to the blast, gained national attention because Reed had become one of the faces of the rescue effort in the aftermath of the blast and because it was so soon after the explosion killed 14 people.

Reed is scheduled to be sentenced on December 4. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. The obstruction charge carries a penalty up to 20 years and a $250,000 fine.

Reed made the plea in order to avoid a long trial and take responsibility for his actions, his attorney Jonathan Sibley said in a statement on Thursday.

Reed initially faced charges of unlawful possession of a firearm after investigators said he tried to conceal pipe bomb components at an acquaintance's home.

The conspiracy and obstruction charges "more accurately reflects Mr. Reed's role in the allegations made against him earlier this year," Sibley said.

The conspiracy charge refers to a second unnamed person allegedly involved in preparing the components but does not include details or whether that person has been charged.

Federal prosecutors could not be reached for comment because they are on furlough due to the government shutdown.

In December, Reed conducted Internet research, searching for terms such as "explosions," "explosive ingredients" and "instructions for making explosives," according to court documents.

Federal prosecutors said Reed purchased sulfur powder, red iron oxide, potassium perchlorate, magnesium ribbons, ammonium, perchiorate, charcoal air float and potassium nitrate powder.

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 in May at a home in Abbott, Texas, a town near West. The resident of that home, whom they did not identify, told police the components came from Reed.

Reed had left the items at the house nine days after the West explosion in order to hide them, court documents said.

The exact cause of the fire that ignited the explosion remains unknown. A federal agency will fine the fertilizer plant for some two dozen safety violations in connection with the blast, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer said on Thursday.

(Editing by Karen Brooks, Greg McCune and Richard Chang)

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