Federal team investigating fatal Tenn. explosion

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Associated Press

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 18 at 3:01 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A special investigative team of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is looking into an explosion at a Tennessee ammunition plant that killed one person and injured three others.

The blast Wednesday at the Rio Ammunition plant in McEwen, about 55 miles west of Nashville, killed Rodney Edwards and critically injured Joey Clark, who was being treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Thursday. A woman whom authorities have not yet publicly identified was in stable condition, and another man was discharged.

ATF spokesman Michael Knight said local officials spent Thursday clearing the area around the plant of any live ammunition to bring in heavy equipment and stabilize the walls. Once the building was stabilized, the ATF's National Response Team planned to begin its investigation.

A news release from parent company Maxam said Rio Ammunition produces shotgun cartridges, and the blast occurred during the company's cartridge loading operations. The release says Rio Ammunition has begun its own internal query and is cooperating with the law enforcement investigation.

ATF spokesman Knight said the company has federal licenses to manufacture firearms and explosives. He said the ATF regulates the cartridge manufacturing, making sure the company complies with standards. The plant is inspected about every two years, Knight said, and a preliminary investigation has not turned up any previous violations.

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates worker safety in the state, but spokesman Jeff Hentschel said that agency has never inspected the plant. That's because TOSHA has received no safety complaints about Rio Ammunition, and the plant has not yet come up for random inspection. Records show the company received a certificate of authority from the Tennessee Secretary of State in 2009, a prerequisite to doing business in the state.

Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency Director Odell Poyner has said they received reports that about 20 employees were in the building at the time of the explosion, which blew out two of the walls and a large portion of the roof.

Firefighters from both Humphreys and Hickman counties battled the blaze at the plant, which is located in a rural area right near the line dividing the counties, Poyner said. The fire ignited several brush fires in a nearby forested area. All had been extinguished by Wednesday night, he said.

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