Deputy Andy Poynter said an employee of the well service was working in a warehouse behind the business late Saturday morning when he noticed a box of plumbing fittings.
Poynter said the man realized he could use the fittings, so he lifted the box. What he found underneath, in a separate box, sent a chill down his spine colder then the 39-degree temperature of the air in the building.
The box contained several plastic bags of a white, powdery substance. But it was the red wires protruding from the bags that really worried the man. He remembered that the building had once been leased by Western Geophysical, an oilfield exploration company that worked in South Texas back in the 1980s.
Oilfield exploration companies often use explosives in seismograph operations. It was later determined that what was found in the box was indeed dangerous as it was old oil field explosives.
The employee immediately called the sheriff’s office, and deputies rushed to the scene. What they found caused enough concern that they called in the Corpus Christi Police Department Bomb Squad and began blocking off U.S. Highway 59 west of town.
Within minutes, telephones at the sheriff’s office were almost too busy for the dispatcher to keep up with them. Trucks and cars headed east on U.S. 59 were rerouted, beginning at about noon. But eastbound trucks and vehicles were caught in a blockade and ended up stranded for hours.
As Deputy Lt. Ronnie Jones coordinated the response over his telephone, Deputies Ryan Treviño and Poynter took charge at the scene.
Several vehicles from the Beeville Volunteer Fire Department responded to block traffic as firefighters stood by, a safe distance from the Hatcher Well Service building.
EMS vehicles from the Angel Care Ambulance Service also responded to provide immediate medical help if needed.
When the bomb squad finally arrived, the explosives experts worked slowly and methodically to isolate the suspicious box and then move it into a special container in a trailer pulled by a pickup truck.
Jones and Poynter confirmed that the bomb squad would take the material to the sheriff’s office range on the western edge of the Bee County Expo Center property.
Meanwhile, a Bee County employee was dispatched to the range with a backhoe equipped tractor. He was told to dig a hole three feet deep and three feet square.
As the emergency crews tried to stay warm in a light drizzle, the bomb experts continued their careful handling of the box in the warehouse.
Finally, at about 3:15 p.m., the pickup pulled the specially built trailer out from the gravel driveway and headed toward the sheriff’s office range. The highway was opened again as soon as the vehicles were safely inside the Expo Center property.
Poynter discussed the procedure with the explosives experts and told the deputies and EMS personnel at the Expo Center that it would be another hour before the bomb squad would be ready to destroy the box and its contents with a controlled explosion.
Poynter said the experts would weave a “mat” of detonator cord and place that at the bottom of the pit. They would then weave two more detonator cord mats and place those over the box.
Detonation would be by remote control. Deputies were told to keep the handful of spectators all the way over to the parking area behind the old rodeo arena at the Expo Center.
Finally, the officers drove their vehicles to the same spot where the spectators were waiting. One of the officers carried a yellow control box.
“When we do this, I’m going to shout ‘fire in the hole’ three times and then do a countdown to three and blow it,” the officer said. He ordered all bystanders either to wear ear protection or place their fingers in their ears.
“There’ll be a pretty good pop,” he said.
Finally, after checking to see that everyone was ready for the blast, he began the countdown and ignited the explosion, throwing dirt and smoke more than 50 feet into the air.
The bomb experts when drove back down to the explosion site and checked to see that it was safe.
The area was cleared by 5 p.m.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.