published Saturday, April 19th, 2014

McEwen, TN ammunition plant explosion ruled accidental

This frame grab from video provided by WSMV-TV in Nashville shows some of the area of an explosion and fire, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at a property where several ammunition and explosives plants are based in McEwen, Tenn.
This frame grab from video provided by WSMV-TV in Nashville shows some of the area of an explosion and fire, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at a property where several ammunition and explosives plants are based in McEwen, Tenn.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MCEWEN, Tenn. — The deadly explosion at a McEwen ammunition plant was accidental, according to a preliminary investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

ATF spokesman Michael Knight said it will now be up to the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration to determine fault and whether there were any safety violations at the plant. The state agency also will determine penalties, if appropriate.

The explosion Wednesday afternoon at Rio Ammunition, about 55 miles west of Nashville, killed Rodney Edwards and injured three others. Joey Clark was listed in stable condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Saturday. The other two victims were discharged earlier in the week.

A news release from Rio parent company Maxam said the Tennessee plant produced shotgun cartridges, and the blast occurred during the company's cartridge loading operations. ATF said the explosion, which blew out two of the walls and part of the roof, occurred in an area of the mezzanine that fed the loading machine.

ATF's National Response Team responds to significant explosives and arson incidents, and its investigation of the Rio Ammunition plant explosion marks only the sixth time the team has been activated in fiscal year 2014.

Knight said the team was brought in to McEwen because the plant where the explosion occurred had federal licenses to manufacture firearms and explosives. He said the response is part of the agency's strategy to protect the public with regards to the firearms and explosives industry.

ATF is responsible for making sure the plant complies with manufacturing standards, and Knight said a preliminary investigation has not turned up any previous violations at Rio Ammunition.

TOSHA is responsible for worker safety at the plant, but the agency had not inspected it prior to the explosion. TOSHA spokesman Jeff Hentschel said that's because the agency had received no safety complaints about Rio Ammunition, and the plant had not yet come up for random inspection.

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