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Hand Grenades Found at New River Explosion Site May Have Been There for a "Long Time"

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Hand grenades were found at the New River ranch where a man lost his foot in an explosion last week.

A 49-year-old man apparently stepped on something that exploded while he was helping friends move out of a house on the ranch, which used to be owned by a military weapons maker with a shady background.

See also:
-Explosion Takes Man's Leg at Old Site of Munitions Maker
-New River Explosion Site Had "Caches of Explosives" in the '90s

The former owner of that ranch, Charles Byers, who manufactured explosive devices at the site, told a TV station in California last week that he was absolutely certain that no explosives were left at the site.

MCSO Deputy Joaquin Enriquez investigators just finished a "secondary and final search" of the property, which yielded three hand grenades:

"The grenades appeared to be very weathered and likely were on the property for a long time. Each was disposed by a bomb technician.

The site is one of the former manufacturing facilities for Accuracy Systems Incorporated, which was well-known for some highly unsafe practices.

Back in 1989, there was an explosion at a facility in Buckeye, which decapitated one man, and injured two others.

At the time, New Times interviewed several employees about the safety practices at the plant, or rather, the lack thereof.

Some of the highlights include:

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.

Not long after that, 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 this New River ranch in 1997, after finding out that he was still making munitions.

A shed on the New River the property that became subject to a public controversy after citizens and authorities debated how to get rid of the shed's contents, including about 800 pounds of unidentified chemicals, 60 to 80 pounds of explosives, and depleted uranium rods.

Federal authorities eventually turned over the property to the state, and the state ended up removing the chemicals from the property.

Although Byers was quick to say on TV that he was certain everything was removed from the property, an Environmental Protection Agency document from the time doesn't make that so clear.

The document describes how ATF agents "found additional caches of explosives on the property" -- more than 2,000 pounds worth.

The EPA document was kind of an overview of the situation, so there's no detail as to where these other explosives were found (although "cache" suggests they were hidden), and there is a reference to a couple hundred pounds of explosives being found in a "bunker."

The MCSO isn't definitively tying the grenades to Byers. Investigators still aren't sure whether the man who lost his foot, 49-year-old Steve Lane, was trespassing on the property, as was initially believed.

Lane was helping two people move out of a house on the property, although a property-management company that's taking care of the lot said no one's supposed to be there at all. Enriquez says that all hasn't been sorted out yet.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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