Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TOP STORY >> Accused in court for utility attacks

Leader staff writer

A self-employed pool maintenance man from Jacksonville accused in the four attacks on the Lonoke County electric grid over the past six weeks made his first court appearance on Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Little Rock. He is charged with destruction of an energy facility.

Jason Woodring, 37, was arrested Saturday following an explosion under power lines near John Shelton Road on Friday.

While being interviewed by FBI investigators, Woodring admitted to damaging a high-voltage tower in Cabot, setting a substation in Keo on fire, cutting two power poles and damaging another. So far, law-enforcement officials have not released Woodring’s motive for the power grid attacks.

In federal court, Woodring — wearing his pink Lonoke County Detention Center jail uniform and leg shackles — appeared with public defender Christopher Tarver and waived his right for a preliminary mental examination.

Woodring reserved his right for a bond hearing at a later date. Magistrate Judge Jerome Kearney ordered Woodring be appointed a public defender. The court also ordered Woodring to remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service at the Lonoke County jail.

According to an FBI affidavit and a federal criminal complaint the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office received several calls about an explosion around noon Friday near John Shelton Road outside of Jacksonville.

Sheriff deputies and Entergy employees determined the explosion occurred under the power lines near Woodring’s home.

FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents were called to the scene. They found a blue hose similar to one found at the scene of a damaged high voltage tower in Cabot. Additional blue hose was found in a ditch across the road from Woodring’s home.

While being interviewed by federal agents Woodring admitted to damaging a high voltage tower in Cabot, setting a substation on fire in Keo and cutting two power poles near Robin Road behind the McBride Subdivision in the South Bend community.


During the early morning of Aug. 21, someone climbed the 100-foot tall electrical transmission tower in the Holland Bottoms area of Cabot near Hwy. 321. They cut a shackle that hold one set of power lines to the tower arm causing the wires to drop to the ground. The electric line carries 500-kilovolts.

An electrical line from one of the towers fell at 4:30 a.m. across Hwy. 321 near the railroad overpass.

Safety measures are in place that immediately de-energizes the electrical line when a cable falls. No residential power outages were reported from the incident.

The power line fell on the railroad track and was later hit and cut by a train.

The investigation indicated someone also attached a one-inch diameter cable to the frame of the electrical tower and placed the cable across the railroad tracks in an attempt to use a moving train to bring down the tower.

A train snagged the cable and caused the upper portion of the electrical tower to kink. No injuries resulted from the action.

Approximately 120 bolts that secure the tower to the concrete base were removed. Only five bolts were left to hold the tower in place.

According to the FBI, Woodring said he took the bolts of the tower’s base, a few bolts at a time, over a one month span.

Investigators at the high voltage tower found a hacksaw and shackle that was cut off from the tower. Woodring said he dropped a hacksaw at the scene and could not find it.

Woodring told investigators he cut the inside shackle first so the power line would not hit the tower when it dropped and kill him. He said each connector took about 30 minutes to cut.

Before Woodring dropped the power line, the report said he tried three times to pull the tower down with a train and was unsuccessful.

Woodring said the first time he tried to down the power line, a train signal went off when the cable crossed the track, so he learned he had to insulate the cable using blue pool hose.

Investigators found a severed winch cable was attached 25-feet up on the damaged tower. The other end was tied to a tree on the other side of the railroad tracks. A set of small wooden steps were nailed to the tree to allow someone to climb up the tree and tie the cable.

The cable was partially insulated by being inserted into blue plastic hose, similar to hose used with swimming pool maintenance work. Pieces of the hose were found scattered around the railroad track after the cable was hit by the train.

Agents believe the intention was for the train to snag the cable and pulled down the unsecure high voltage tower and other nearby towers. Railroad officials said if the cable was not insulated with the blue hose laid across both metal railroad tracks, the railroad tracks would have shorted out and triggered alarms, leading to the discovery of an attempted sabotage attack.

A railroad safety inspector told FBI investigators that two weeks before Aug. 21. He saw a severed cable attached to the support tower. He moved the cable away from the railroad tracks. Investigators believe when the attack failed, the saboteur returned later on Aug. 21. Agents believe the person responsible for the attack had visited the scene several times planning.

Entergy representatives said damage to the high voltage tower exceeded $100,000. The tower had to be replaced.


In the early morning hours of Sept. 26 a fire was set at an Entergy extremely high voltage switch station on Hwy. 165 between Scott and England. No injuries or power outages were reported. Investigators determined the fire, which burned a control house at the substation was intentionally set.

Someone responsible for the incident wrote in black marker, “YOU SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED U.S.” on a metal control panel outside the substation.

An estimated $2 million damages occurred at the stationhe scouted the substation for a several days. On Sept. 26 he entered the substation by using fence cutters and bolt cutters to cut two locks. He burned the control building by pouring a gallon jug of ethanol gas and motor oil on a table and into hole behind a control panel where wires go into the floor.

Woodring said before setting the fire he wrote a message on the control panel using his left hand to disguise his handwriting.


At around 7:25 a.m. Oct.6 a power outage occurred to 9,000 First Electric Cooperative customers.

Someone intentionally cut two wooden poles and pulled down one pole carrying a 115-kilovolt transmission line in a wooded area near1400 block of Robin Road behind the McBride Subdivision in the South Bend community.

The downed lines affected three First Electric substations. Power was restored two hours later to residents in Jacksonville, Austin, Cabot, Carlisle and Des Arc.

Investigators reported two power poles were cut and one was pulled down.

The person responsible took a tractor with a circular saw at the end with a boom arm used to cut limbs. The stolen tractor had been parked inside a fenced area at the intersection of Poston Road and John Shelton Road close to Furlow community near Hwy. 294. They drove the tractor through a locked cattle gate to where the power poles were located.

Woodring told investigators he borrowed a chainsaw from a friend to cut down some power poles. When he cut the first pole and its guide wires, the pole did not fall.

Woodring returned another night to cut down a second pole using an ax, a splitting wedge and a chain saw. The second pole did not fall. Woodring said he then stole a tractor from across the street from his home. He drove the tractor to the poles and used a winch to pull down a pole. The pole only fell only part way.

A federal grand jury will decide whether to indict Woodring on the alleged charges. If convicted on the charge, Woodring could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison and or $250,000 fine followed by a three-year supervision.

Woodring told investigators.