|UPDATE - Federal authorities have charged a man in connection with several incidents over the last several days where suspicious devices were found on tugboats along the Ohio River.|
Nathaniel Becker, 42, is charged with possession of an unregistered firearm/explosive device.
He was arrested Wednesday evening after investigators had identified the red Ford Escape he was driving through surveillance video from a Marietta, Ohio, Lowe's where they believed the items used to make the devices were purchased.
Investigators said they were conducting vehicle surveillance near the hardware store when they spotted the SUV, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
During a search of the SUV, investigators said they found two 1-inch x 3-inch pieces of pipe and clothing that they said Beckner was wearing in the Lowe's surveillance video.
An ATF agent investigating the cases said the first device was found about 3 a.m. Oct. 21 by a deckhand working on the Janis R. Brewer tugboat. The worker is said to have located a piece of pipe inside an empty barge attached to the vessel as they were traveling upstream on the Ohio River just north of Parkersburg.
"The deckhand retrieved the pipe and observed that it had endcaps on both ends and what appeared to be a fuse protruding from one of the ends," the complaint said. "At that time, the deckhand realized or suspected the device to be a pipe bomb."
Bomb technicians from the West Virginia State Police responded to the initial call and located where the barge where it had stopped just outside of St. Marys in Pleasants County.
The bomb technicians X-rayed the device and saw what they believed to be a "powder line" meaning that it contained a powdered filler that appeared to be consistent with an explosive. Tests reveled that the suspected explosive filler was ammonium nitrate.
The next incident happened on Oct. 25 after the captain and deckhand of another tugboat, the Connie K., heard a clanking sound as the vessel traveled on the Ohio River beneath the Interstate 77 bridge in Wood County. After hearing the sound, investigators said the crew found two suspected destructive devices that they think were dropped from the bridge.
The third and final incident happened the following day, on Oct. 26 about 10 p.m. in Wood County. In this case, a deckhand working on the tugboat, MV Findlay, found two more devices on a barge shortly after it had passed under the I-77 bridge and the Williamstown Bridge. Investigators said these devices were filled with a blue sand-like substance that was not believed to be an explosive powder.
Investigators were able to determine that the pipe had been bought from a Lowe's store. On Wednesday, investigators went to the Lowe's in Vienna and were able to determine that the purchases had been made from the Marietta Lowe's.
Surveillance video from the store on Oct. 20 showed a man purchasing galvanized couplings, a galvanized plug, a galvanized pipe and a jumbo wax ring. The man then went to his car, a red Ford Escape and grabbed a pink bag from it. Investigators said the man then started walking toward the I-77 bridge. The man returned to the SUV around midnight. "The components purchased by the suspect match those exactly of the device that was recovered on Oct. 21," the complaint noted.
Investigators said they observed the same man buying more of the same items from the Lowe's on Oct. 21, again on Oct. 25. and once more on Oct. 26. They said the purchases also match the other devices recovered.
"The first three recovered devices would be classified as destructive devices," the complaint said.
Federal prosecutors have indicated in a motion for a detention hearing that the case involves a crime of violence and serious risk Becker will flee.
Becker is currently in the South Central Regional Jail and is expected to appear in federal court Thursday afternoon for an initial appearance.
ORIGINAL STORY - Another explosive device was found on an Ohio River towboat between 9:30 and 10:00 Tuesday night, making it the third such incident in days, officials said, in the St. Marys-Williamstown section of the river.
The latest device, which did not go off, was found on a Marathon Petroleum towboat carrying fuel barges down-bound. The boat was transferring the barges near Muskingum Island when they found the device at the stern of the tow, near the head of the boat.
A federal law enforcement source described these devices as âpipe-bomb-likeâ but some they were possible âhoax devices.â
West Virginia State Police along with the FBI, ATF and US Coast Guard is actively working on a joint investigation to find out where the devices are being put on the boats and barges and who is to blame.
A number of Calhoun men are riverboat captains on the river.
Lieutenant Colonel D. M. Nelson of the West Virginia State Police are asking people to be vigilant about what they see near the river. From north of Parkersburg to Marietta and Williamstown to St. Maryâs, these are the areas that the devices have been found.
The list of companies and boats that these devices have been found is random.
The first in a string of possible explosive devices on the Ohio River was found on a barge near St. Marys in Pleasants County, West Virginia on Thursday, October 21. Troopers said the West Virginia State Police Explosive Response Team rendered the device safe and removed it from the barge.
Two more suspicious devices were then found late Monday night on a towboat on the river near Williamstown in Wood County, West Virginia, causing the Coast Guard to shut down part of the river between 9:15 p.m. on Monday and 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday.