Gunpowder explosion at school that injured teen under investigation
(5/19/06 - WINONA, TX) -- An East Texas student who injured himself in a campus explosion involving improvised gunpowder may not have been working on a school project, investigators said Thursday.
Officials said 17-year-old Jonathon Strength lost his left hand in the Wednesday accident at the Winona High School transportation and maintenance shop. School officials originally said Strength was working on a physics project involving a small pipe and gunpowder.
But on Thursday, Principal Brent Rumbo said Strength was working on his own without connection to any school curriculum.
Clay Alexander, a supervisor with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators had received conflicting information on whether Strength was working on a school project.
"Initially we were told that this was a sanctioned class project and now we are being told it was not," Alexander said in a story for Friday's Tyler Morning Telegraph. "We will have to wait until all the interviews have been conducted and the evidence processed before we can determine what is going on."
Strength's family was not releasing information about his condition, the newspaper reported.
Alexander said Wednesday that the boy's physics teacher told investigators that the project involved making "cannons" out of pipes designed to be loaded with explosive powder and fired with a hobby fuse to shoot corks.
Alexander said Strength had visited the maintenance shop, where his father is employed, and asked to use a wrench and vice to twist metal caps onto the pipe. The pipe was about three inches long and a half-inch in diameter.
Alexander said a spark apparently ignited the explosive powder, which was enough to blast the quarter-sized metal cap 60 yards and embed metal shrapnel in the shop walls.
The physics teacher, Bradley Brown, gave authorities a jar of the same improvised gunpowder from his classroom, Alexander said. Brown could not be reached for comment.
Alexander said Thursday that investigators' goal is to determine events leading up to the explosion and whether there was criminal intent.
"We will be talking with all (physics) students, including the injured student, to gather our information," he said.
Winona Independent School District Superintendent Rodney Fausett said the school will likely release results of its own investigation on Friday.
"To my knowledge right now, we don't know Mr. Brown's involvement in any of this," he said. "We know the student was working on the individual project. We don't know if it was science-related or not."
Explosive materials are prohibited on campus under district policy, Fausett said.
Winona is about 95 miles southeast of Dallas.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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