Two men suspected of manufacturing illegal explosive devices that led to a massive explosion at a business in Grandview were indicted on conspiracy and other charges, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
James Witt, 76, of Grandview, and Thomas McKeehan, 66, of Belton, were charged in a three-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City Aug. 9.
That indictment was unsealed and made public Friday after McKeehan’s arrest and initial court appearance. McKeehan remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing; Witt, prosecutors said, is expected to surrender to authorities.
Witt and McKeehan are charged together in one count of conspiracy to engage in the business of manufacturing and dealing explosives from January 2015 to Jan. 17, 2017.
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The pair also are charged together in one count of engaging in the business of dealing explosive materials from Jan. 3 to Jan. 17, 2017 without a license.
McKeehan is also charged with one count of making a materially false statement. According to court documents, McKeehan allegedly told ATF agents that he had no knowledge of Witt’s involvement in manufacturing illegal explosive devices at Witt’s place of business.
Witt was the owner of JW’s Lawn and Garden Equipment, 12010 South U.S. 71 in Grandview. The business was destroyed in an explosion on Jan. 3.
The federal indictment alleges that Witt and McKeehan used the business as a place to manufacture illegal explosive devices, including M-80 and M-100 explosives. They allegedly manufactured the explosive devices by buying bulk supplies of chemicals and then combining them to produce the illegal explosive devices at JW’s Lawn and Garden Equipment.
Prosecutors also allege they purchased commercial fireworks without a license.
According to the indictment, McKeehan maintained a storage unit in Belton that was used to store explosives. Later the same night after the Jan. 3 explosion, Witt and McKeehan allegedly traveled to that storage unit and removed the stored fireworks.
On Jan. 17 Witt and McKeehan loaded a van with commercial fireworks and illegal explosive devices from a commercial shipping container in Lone Jack, the indictment says.
McKeehan allegedly contacted an individual in Wisconsin to sell the fireworks for close to $32,000.
The explosion and fire broke windows and damaged at least nine houses and 19 nearby apartments, according to city officials. People in Belton, Lee’s Summit and across the state line reported feeling the blast. It was reportedly heard as far away as Stilwell in Johnson County.
Grandview firefighters evacuated 46 people from the area, and authorities closed the 140th Street bridge, along with West Outer Road at 138th Street.
No injuries were reported, but the lawn care building was destroyed, leaving a debris field that extended more than two blocks.