Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has filed a third-degree arson charge against an Edmond man.
Prosecutors allege that on Oct. 9, Charles Jayden Columbus, 24, used a mixture of chemicals to burn the locking mechanism on the hatch of a City of Edmond water well in the vicinity of 900 S. Bryant. He is accused of making purported anti-government statements and wanting to use explosives to cause damage to Edmond utilities, police said.
An arrest warrant has been issued for the suspect, who has not been booked into the city or county jail. In court records, Columbus is described as being 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weighing 145 pounds and having brown hair and brown eyes.
Police spokeswoman Jenny Monroe said personnel were in an Edmond mobile home park to serve a search warrant for drug-related complaints. The officer recognized the chemicals and knew their potential hazards, Monroe said.
When witnesses were interviewed, investigators discovered some uses and intentions for the material that were not safe, especially for the people living in the mobile home park, Monroe said.
“He had already tested it out on a grill and tried to damage the hatch to a water well within the Edmond city limits,” Monroe said. “We are pleased we discovered this when we did and not after a much larger event.”
On Oct. 9, Edmond Technical Investigator Rockie Yardley called Detective Marion Cain to assist him at 601 Vista Lane No. 29 in the Oak Ridge Estates mobile home park, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Cain in Oklahoma County District Court.
While serving a narcotic search warrant, Yardley and other detectives located a large amount of possible chemicals in bags labeled potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, aluminum powder, red iron oxide and calcium carbonate limestone, police said.
After Cain arrived at the scene and saw the chemicals he knew they could be used as components of explosives and other incendiary mixtures and were very dangerous if not handled properly, the affidavit of probable cause stated.
A witness admitted to knowing they were being stored in a cabinet in the living room, police said. Sometime during the summer, the other person ordered the chemicals online, police said.
Pyrotechnic chemicals including those involved in this case are easily accessible online; a number of pyrotechnic chemical e-tailers are found with a simple search engine request.
Some of the sites post disclaimers, stating they do not support illegal activities and that it is illegal to make any type of ground explosive device in the U.S. regardless of the intended use unless the buyer is licensed to do so by the federal government.
When Cain asked the witness what the chemicals were for he said the person who ordered them talked about using them to blow up phone poles and power boxes around Hafer Park, located just south of the suspect’s home, police said.
The witness said the person who ordered the chemicals mixed two of them together in a bowl in a gas grill to make “thermite,” police said. They were then lit with a fireworks sparkler, and when the mixture began to burn the lid was closed and a loud noise was heard, police said.
The witness said he saw the suspect place chemicals on an exterior locking mechanism of a concrete building on the northeast side of Hafer Park, police said. The person tried to burn off the lock on the “hatch,” but when the mixture exploded and began to burn they ran away and did not return to see what damage had been caused, police said.
Officers found a City of Edmond water well site at Hafer Park where there was obvious charring on and around the locking mechanism, police said. City workers confirmed the structure is a city well site.
Monroe said the way to prevent a future duplicate incident is to help create tougher legislation so these chemicals are not so easy to obtain and abuse.
“There are legitimate uses for these chemicals, but that is not the case here,” she said.
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