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Explosion Takes Man's Leg at Old Site of Munitions Maker

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A man lost part of his leg in an explosion in New River, north of Phoenix, near the site of a former military-weapons manufacturer.

The site is one of several around the Valley that used to be manufacturing facilities Accuracy Systems Incorporated, which became well-known for its ridiculously unsafe practices.

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The Associated Press reported that the injured man was helping tenants move out of a rented house when he apparently stepped on something that exploded. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office officials told the AP that it's the same property authorities raided in the late '90s for explosive chemicals.

MCSO Deputy Joaquin Enriquez tells New Times no new information will be released until 3 p.m.:

I will update at 3 p.m. I can tell you it will be a while before the bomb squad does a slow and thorough sweep of the outside. Once that's done, they will do a search of the inside using robots and bomb K9. It will be a while before detectives get on property. I will advise everyone when we have some information.

A New Times story from 1989 explained the extremely unsafe practices explained by employees of the munitions factory, after an explosion at a facility west of Buckeye decapitated one man, and injured two others.

Here are some highlights from that:

Employees received almost no conventional safety training, [one employee] claims, but were told to "use common sense." [Owner Charles M. "Chuck"] Byers removed the labels on containers of chemicals and explosive powders as they arrived at the shop, she says, citing "security" and "trade secret" reasons. He replaced the labels with crude directions of his own making, sometimes offering no more information than instructions to mix bottle "A" with bottle "B."

During a fire in 1985, she claims, she and other employees working under Byers' direction canceled a call to firefighters and then removed and hid several hundred pounds of explosive powders in an effort to conceal the presence of the munitions operation from fire officials who subsequently visited the site. A second employee confirms Davis' account.

In January 1986, a fire erupted among chemicals at the Cave Creek Road plant where Davis and another employee were working. The second employee, Laurel Welker, suffered third-degree burns on her back and buttocks as she struggled to escape through a small back window.

On June 27, 1986, slightly more than six months after the fire that injured Laurel Welker, Steve Davis was injured in an explosion that nearly destroyed his face and left him blind in one eye.

He had just completed custom-mixing a large order of explosive powder when some spilled on the ground outside the New River building, where he was working. Davis stood over the pile leaning on a broom while a co-worker went to find a dustpan when, without warning, the powder exploded.

And there was plenty more drama after that.

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In 1990, Byers was convicted of charges for sending payments to a Navy officer in exchange for a contract to buy grenades from Byers.

He lost his license to make explosives after that, but federal authorities raided and seized Byers' ranch in 1997, after finding out that he was still making munitions.

That started a long saga over what to do with the ranch, where it was deemed to dangerous to remove hundreds of pounds of explosives, and too dangerous to blow up, due to depleted uranium rods on the site, according to an Arizona Republic article from 2000.

We'll provide updates as we get them.

UPDATE 3:18 p.m.: Enriquez says it turns out that none of the three people who was at the house during the explosion was actually supposed to be there.

Investigators found that a property-management company is in charge of the property, and they said no one's supposed to be on that property, so the man who lost part of his leg, plus the other two people there, are now "investigative leads" in this case, Enriquez says.

The man injured in the explosion has been identified as Steve Lane, and the other two have been identified as Jordan Perrin and Chelsie Garner.

Enriquez says it's still unclear whether this explosion is related to the old munitions manufacturer.

Perrin also made the following post to Facebook:

However, Enriquez says that even though investigators don't know much about the explosive device, it wasn't planted in the ground, meaning it wasn't a "land mine."

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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