Authorities arrest five in Buford on explosives charges

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

BUFORD -- Dynamite-like explosives manufactured in the basement of an unassuming Buford home were shrapnel-packed and meant to inflict bodily harm -- though exactly how is unclear, authorities said Wednesday.

Five people -- including a Buford great-grandmother -- remain behind bars after police discovered two wick-fed, seven-inch tubes packed with explosives, nails and screws in a vehicle traveling North Price Road in Buford on Monday.

Police, suspicious of the 1997 Dodge Stratus' homemade drive-out tag, pulled the vehicle over about 3:40 p.m. for an improper registration violation. A subsequent search uncovered the two explosive devices in a front console, said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer Brian Kelly.

After explosive disposal officers X-rayed the devices and determined them dangerous, police arrested the vehicle's four occupants and secured a search warrant for a related home in the 100 block of Line Street, Kelly said.

Authorities -- including Fire Department investigators, a SWAT team and members of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- swarmed the residence later Monday and arrested a fifth person living in a detached apartment.

In the home's basement and apartment, investigators found items "consistent with the materials used to manufacture" the two explosives in the Dodge, Kelly said.

Authorities wouldn't divulge what type of components were used to create the devices or where they had been obtained.

Some neighbors dismissed news of the explosives as "redneck fun."

Capt. Thomas Rutledge, Fire Department spokesman, said construction of the devices leads investigators to believe they were meant for more than amusement.

"We don't know the intent or the motive ... (but) these weren't your run-of-the-mill things we normally see," such as homemade Molotov cocktails used to cause property damage, Rutledge said.

Rutledge said all five suspects -- William Dale Parten, 41, Phillip Ray Duncan, 54, Shirley Maddox, 62, all of Buford, Michael Brewer, 42, of Winder, and Matthew Henry Rothove, 44, of Flowery Branch -- have denied knowing about the explosives in interviews.

"None of them at the moment are claiming knowledge of the devices and are kind of pointing fingers at each other," he said.

The home in question is a one-story, beige structure with a double front entrance and wide porch; behind it sits the small, white detached apartment that Brewer and Duncan are believed to have rented. A young woman who answered the door, a tiny dog in tow, declined comment.

Maddox's granddaughter, Holli Wilford, said the arrests came as no surprise, as her grandmother was wanted on deposit account fraud charges and the others -- mostly friends who grew up with Maddox's son -- had been "in and out of jail."

Wilford said Maddox, with whom she lives a few doors down Line Street, is a grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of 14. Wilford was flummoxed as to why the crew would have high-grade explosives, she said.

Another neighbor, Michael Gravitt, said the home's current tenants moved in a couple months ago and have remained quiet, aside from a loud explosion the second week of April that "sounded like a quarter-stick of dynamite."

Gravitt shrugged off the boom as the work of local school kids on Spring Break.

The neighborhood, which straddles the cities of Buford and Sugar Hill, is dotted with several generations of the same families and is generally peaceful, Gravitt and others said. Recent economic hardships have upped the number of renters in the area and have contributed to more resident turnover, he said.

Kelly said explosives experts will take samples of the components and destroy the rest of the devices.

Fire investigators have notified the FBI and are seeking information from residents who knew the suspects, Rutledge said.

All five suspects face felony counts of possession of an explosives device. Maddox is charged with deposit account fraud in a 2009 case, and Brewer faces drug charges for illegally possessing Xanax, according to arrest warrants.

All five remain at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.