A chemistry student with a yen for rocket science had enough explosives in his apartment to blow his complex sky high, Washington State University police said.
“He had this stuff so he could practice,” Chief Robert Wilson said Monday. “This stuff could probably lift an Apollo. This was fairly significant material.”
Hugh Allen Putnam, 38, was arrested Friday evening after a tip led police to ask him about explosives in his apartment, Wilson said.
Putnam allegedly confirmed he had explosives but let police in only after they obtained a search warrant.
Police filled seven 55-gallon drums with materials ranging from chemicals to fuses to fireworks paper. They also found five rifles, which are not allowed in university residences, and a homemade “zip gun,” Wilson said.
Putnam was being held on $10,000 bail Monday on charges of violating the state explosives act and resisting arrest. Also arrested was Dorothy Jean Wiedel, 37, for outstanding traffic warrants in Whatcom County. Wilson described her as Putnam’s “significant other.”
Wilson said police first learned of the explosives after an informant told them Putnam’s Nez Perce Village apartment had materials “you might not want to have in a neighborhood.”
“When we went in, we were astonished at what we found,” he said.
Stacked in boxes throughout the apartment, the materials would have been a fire hazard even if they hadn’t been explosive, Wilson said. Some boxes were found near the apartment water heater.
Even more troubling, he said, was the fact that there had been a fire last week less than a block away from Nez Perce Village, a university-run complex at NE 1445 North Fairway Drive.
Wilson said it did not appear that Putnam intended to blow anything up or cause property damage. He showed no hostility and did not appear to be part of any organization that might want to use the materials, he said. Police have found no prior convictions, Wilson said.
“I think the guy just didn’t use common sense to the point of endangering the lives of a lot of people,” he said. “So it was not a happy situation.”
The university’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety was called in to handle the material, but gave it back to the police after concluding it was not hazardous material under their purview, said Al Ruddy, a university spokesman.
WSU police Capt. Mike Kenny said Putnam had mostly fireworks, including assembled rockets, as well as many “bigger-than-normal firecrackers” that approached the size of sticks of dynamite.
A list of materials tabulated by WSU police included 300 feet of fuse material, more than 15 pounds of ingredients used to make black gunpowder and several pints of the explosive liquids methanol, isopropanol and acetone.
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