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Authorities Tracing Source of Scrap Plant Ammo

Posted February 13, 2008
Updated February 14, 2008

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— Local and federal authorities continued Wednesday night to track down the source of the munitions at a Raleigh scrap metals plant.

Neighbors who were evacuated as a safety precaution were allowed to return for the night Wednesday, but police said they would have to be out again by 8 a.m. Thursday, spokesman Jim Sughrue said.

“We were frustrated because by the simple fact, we couldn't grab nothing, we just had to leave,” evacuee Sherman Dunston said as she described the first evacuation.

Two explosions were reported Tuesday morning at Raleigh Metals Recycling, at 2310 Garner Road. Police and experts from Fort Bragg determined unexploded ordnance got mixed into a batch of scrap metal being processed at the plant.

The Army team determined late Tuesday that more munitions were in the scrap heaps, and they decided that detonating them at the plant was safer than moving them elsewhere for disposal.

Maj. Mark Carruso, of the 57th Ordnance Group from Fort Gillem in Forest Park, Ga., who is helping clear the plant, said three 90 mm rifle rounds and 18 anti-tank projectiles were found in the bales of scrap metal. The devices didn't have fuses, so they posed no risk to the public, aside from the plant workers, he said.

"The Army, as a whole, has pretty stringent procedures for accounting for ammunition, from the time you draw it out of your ammunition supply point to when you use it to when you turn it in," Carruso said. "So, to have something like this is very unusual."

Eighteen of the devices had been detonated by Wednesday evening. The soldiers were expected to stop the process for the night.

Plant owner Greg Brown said Wednesday morning that authorities know who brought the munitions to the plant.

The person, whom Brown didn't identify, sold a load of scrap metal to the plant last Thursday, he said. Workers sifted through the materials and saw the shells, but didn't recognize them as live ammunition, he said.

"I don't know how they were not viewed as munitions," he said, adding that his workers "clearly need reinforced training."

Raleigh Metals Recycling has a policy against accepting ammunition and other hazardous materials, such as flammable liquids or oxygen containers, Brown said.

"We get things from the military," he said. "We do get some spent shells, (but) no live ammunition."

The person who sold the munitions to the plant is a repeat customer who has never brought in anything like that, he said.

Brown said he has turned the person's driver's license number and other information over to authorities. Raleigh Police Department investigators and agents with the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the case.

State Department of Labor investigators also plan to review the incident but have to wait until the military finishes detonating the ordnance.

The force of the initial explosion Tuesday knocked over one worker, and a second worker complained of ringing in his ears. Isai Bravo Santiago, 33, was treated at WakeMed and released, while Adrian Bravo, 27, was listed in good condition at the hospital Wednesday morning.

Brown said the design of the plant, which is open on three sides, diffused  the force of the explosion, limiting the injuries and the physical damage to the plant. The explosion did blow a hole through the plant's corrugated metal roof.

Garner Road will remain closed to through traffic between Rush Street on the south and Newcombe Road on the north. Drivers are advised to use alternate routes.

The Garner Road YMCA, located across from the plant, also is closed, officials said.

Police notified people living within a one-mile radius of the plant of the detonations and briefly closed a section of the Interstate 440 Beltline Tuesday night.

As a precaution, police also evacuated the Biltmore Hills Apartments across from the plant Tuesday night. The American Red Cross opened a shelter at Garner United Methodist Church for residents, and six people spent the night there Tuesday.

Wayne Nordan who lives off Lake Wheeler Road, about 2 miles from the detonation site, also evacuated.

“I was on the phone with my sister. It sounded like someone pounding on the awning. It just shook, everything shook,” Nordan said.

Neighbors said the repeated detonations Tuesday night and throughout the day Wednesday put them on edge.

"It's just like being in Iraq or something," neighbor Charlie Simmons said.

"Suppose all of (the munitions) had gone off at the same time – now that could have been scary," neighbor Maureen Smith said.

The shelter was expected to remain open at least through Wednesday night, officials said.

Raleigh City officials said they believe the cost of the Raleigh Metals Recycline incident will be minimal. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said the city trains for emergencies like this and it has the personnel to respond.

“We have 700 police officers, likewise for firefighters,” Meeker said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • lizard Feb 13, 2008

    I've never heard of 90mm motar rounds. When did the military change from the 81 mm or the 4.2?

  • Steve Crisp Feb 13, 2008

    Someone brought up that they were glad none of the ordinance was nuclear. That would be somewhat counterproductive.

    The smallest mass capable of initiating fission would have a blast wave of approximately 3000 yards radius. And since most 90 mm mortars could not be shot that far, firing one at the enemy would be the last thing a soldier would do.

    I was joking around last night with one of the military guys about this and his expression did not change one bit. I named him Mr. Chuckles.

  • Garnerwolf1 Feb 13, 2008

    I live in Garner and didn't hear/feel a thing. But people miles away did. Amazing.

    garnermom: what elem school is a mile away? Is there one on Old Garner Rd I'm not familiar with?

  • raleighwakenative Feb 13, 2008

    WRAZ had stated the detonation of munitions would resume Wednesday morning. If they had not stated when munitions would resume, I would not have an issue. They reported erroneous information. Hence my post.

  • Its me again Feb 13, 2008


  • Joe Blow Feb 13, 2008

    They have trained people out there taking care of the situation. NO ONE IS IN HARMS WAY. So take a chill pill garnermom. It's my understanding you don't see the actual explosion either. I think it is put in some sort of bomb proof vehicle or container of some sort. I might be wrong about that tho.

  • RonnieR Feb 13, 2008

    Yellow is the US color code for live munitions, in fact,
    I don't recall anything being written on the live stuff
    to indicate it was the real thing, but all the writing is
    yellow (Model, lot #, etc)along with the yellow band. Yellow means caution,
    this could blow up in your face.

  • WRAL is joe_dirt Feb 13, 2008

    Some interesting comments indeed but most pluggers in here have their heads in the poo chutes. Why are mortars created? To kill people. How do mortars end up in the scrap yards? Because there are no thorough inspections on what's coming in. Why didn't the scrap handlers not recognize the mortars as being "live rounds?" Two reasons; 1. warnings are printed in English and not Spanish, and 2. the employer is not training the workers in hazard recognition.

    It's easy to place blame but usually, there are a chain of failures that lead up to an event such as this. Ultimately, the employer is totally responsible. Just ask the Dept of Labor.

  • oldrebel Feb 13, 2008

    I'm betting someone bought a load of military scrap at a government auction and never even realized what was part and parcel of the lot. They then sold it as scrap for a set per pound price and that was that as far as they were concerned. I'm betting they never knew what they had. The problem is how did live ammo get mixed into a lot of scrap metal and then sold to the public.

  • baileysmom3 Feb 13, 2008

    well, i guess its time to figure out who gets the explosives in the future. If you find unspent explosives on your property people need to know where to dispose of them properly. I bet the historic society and museaums would pay more for it than the scrap metal yard. But I do believe that it rightly belongs to the army core of engineers, it is theirfore their job to find and locate unspent artilary. Especially from areas that are near or adjacent to old army sites, such as camp butner and fort macon.