Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TOP STORY >> How a break in grid case led to arrest

Leader editor

The man who is accused of trying to blow up electric grids and power lines around Lonoke County asked his lawyer during his appearance in federal court Tuesday if the pitcher of water in front of them was poisoned.

Jason Woodring, 37, was arrested Saturday after Lonoke County sheriff’s deputies and members of the South Bend Volunteer Fire Department answered a call Friday from one of his neighbors about an explosion at a power line behind his home on John Sheldon Road. The explosion blew holes in the ground.

The break in the case came after a firefighter, who saw wire hanging from the power line, walked behind Woodring’s trailer and found pieces of an orange cable with hooks attached on the ground.

At first the firefighter thought Woodring was trying to steal electricity. He talked to Woodring, who said he’d also heard a loud pop.

“It was like a bolt of lightning,” the firefighter recalled Woodring telling him.

Woodring, who didn’t have a shirt on, said he couldn’t talk because he was “fixing to take a shower.”

“We better call the feds,” the firefighter told his colleagues after Woodring went inside.

He is charged with causing $2 million worth of damage in four separate incidents and faces up to 20 years in prison.

“I live a mile away from the explosion,” the firefighter told us. “It was loud. I can only imagine how loud it was near the suspect’s house.”

Woodring, a combat veteran, lived in the trailer with his mother, surrounded by a privacy fence and electric grids and utility poles. Investigators found a meth lab in his home.

All around his home, you can hear the quiet hum of the power lines, which sound like eggs frying on a stove. You can get used to the noise or move away, or you can go berserk and start cutting them or setting them on fire, at least according to the federal indictment.

He is also accused of cutting two power poles near his trailer around 7:30 a.m. Oct. 6, which disrupted service at three First Electric Cooperative substations, knocking out power to 10,000 customers in Jacksonville, Cabot, Austin, Lonoke, Carlisle and Des Arc.

Woodring allegedly stole a neighbor’s tractor and used a circular saw to cut down the two poles.

Woodring is also charged with carrying out two more acts of sabotage a short drive from his home. The first incident on Aug. 21 on Hwy. 321 near a railroad overpass in the Holland Bottoms area, about 10 miles from his house, was perhaps the most dramatic: Around 4:30 a.m., Woodring, carrying a hacksaw, climbed one of Entergy’s 100-foot towers. He allegedly cut a steel shackle that holds a set of power lines to the tower arm, causing the wires to drop. He told investigators he’d attached a cable to the tower and ran it to the tracks, hoping a passing train would run over the cable and bring down the tower. That didn’t happen and there were no outages. Apparently the cable was similar to the one the firefighter found in Woodring’s back yard.

Early Sept. 29, Entergy officials reported a fire at the Keo substation on Hwy. 165 between Scott and England. No injuries or power outages were reported. But the fire was intentionally set and destroyed a control house.

The saboteur left a message that said, “You should have expected U.S.”

Neighbors say Woodring hasn’t been the same since he returned from combat in Afghanistan. He’d lived in the same trailer most of his life and is described as a well-behaved young man who had lost his way since his return from overseas.

No one knows what may have set him off: He may have become a kind of survivalist who wanted to hasten the end of civilization.

The volunteer firefighter who discovered the cable in Woodring’s yard may be eligible for a $25,000 reward. He’s too modest to take much credit for cracking the case that baffled investigators for six weeks. He doesn’t want his name used just yet, but here’s hoping he could split the reward with his fellow volunteer firefighters.