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Press Release

Contractor in Failed Smokestack Implosion Pleads to Federal Explosives Charges

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM – A Pell City contractor pleaded guilty today in federal court to explosives storage and record-keeping charges filed after his failed 2015 implosion of a 100-year-old smokestack ended with the structure collapsing on the track hoe he was using to complete the job.

Acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Steven L. Gerido announced TIMOTHY MANLEY PHIFER, 54, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge R. David Proctor to one count of failing to record the acquisition of explosives and one count of improperly storing explosives. Phifer is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 14. Phifer, who held a federal permit to receive and use explosives, failed to timely record the receipt of explosives materials – Austin Powder 50-grain and 25-grain detonating cord – between Sept. 10, 2014, and Dec. 2, 2014, according to his plea. He also failed to properly store the detonating cord on Dec. 4, 2015, in St. Clair County.

Phifer owns Phoenix Services of Alabama, which contracted with Pell City to demolish the old Avondale Mills’ brick smokestack. Phifer detonated explosives to bring down the stack on Nov. 24, 2015, but it did not fall. “So, to accomplish the task, Phifer boarded a city-owned excavator and used it to nudge the smokestack over. However, as the structure began to come down, it buckled and fell directly onto the excavator while Phifer was still behind the wheel,” according to Phifer’s plea agreement. “Phifer miraculously emerged from the rubble stunned and dirty, but essentially uninjured.”

ATF investigators arrived at the demolition site on Dec. 4, 2015, to assist Alabama state fire marshals with the investigation of the failed implosion. The investigators found about five feet of Austin Powder 50-grain detonation cord in an unlocked and unattended explosives magazine on a flatbed utility trailer at the site, according to the plea agreement. On the ground near the trailer, they found a three-foot section of 50-grain detonator cord and a two-foot section of Austin Powder 25-grain detonator cord, both improperly stored, the plea agreement states.

Further authorized searches led investigators to discover more unsecured detonator cord in Phifer’s truck, as well as in his bedroom and in the garage at his parents’ Pell City home, according to Phifer’s plea agreement. Investigators also found a non-secured APC Shock Star non-electric detonator in the garage of the Pell City home, the plea agreement states.

The maximum penalty for failure to record acquisition of explosives is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for improper storage of explosives, a misdemeanor, is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

ATF and the Alabama Fire Marshal’s Office investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney William G. Simpson is prosecuting.

Updated April 18, 2017