August 8, 1995 in Nation/World

One Held In Explosives Theft Authorities Are Still Searching For More Suspects And Most Of The Stolen ‘Stick Powder’

Bill Morlin And Winda Benedetti S Staff writer
 

One suspect is in jail, but authorities are still looking for most of the 500 pounds of mining explosives stolen 10 days ago.

Kent Allen Johnson, 31, was arrested Monday in Coeur d’Alene after police chased him at speeds in excess of 100 mph.

Johnson suffered minor injuries after he fled from his car and ran into the path of a pickup on an Interstate 90 on-ramp.

He is charged in a federal complaint with possession of stolen explosive materials.

Johnson also faces drug charges, and may have been selling the explosives to support a drug habit, two law enforcement sources say.

Another law enforcement source said preliminary information indicates Johnson may have ties to a methamphetamine ring known as The Circle.

That group has been tied to violence and murders in the region.

Johnson is not charged with the actual theft of the explosives, taken July 30 from a locked bunker at the Lucky Friday mine, near Mullan.

Some of the stolen explosives apparently were used in a poorly executed attempt to bomb a night depository over the weekend at the West One Bank in Post Falls, authorities said. The explosives partially burned, and no money was taken.

Laboratory tests are under way to see whether the explosives match the aluminized nitrate emulsion, known as “stick powder,” taken from the Lucky Friday.

Investigators also will compare a bullet found in the stick powder with a handgun found in Johnson’s car after his arrest.

Court documents are sealed, and authorities wouldn’t say how federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents identified Johnson as a suspect.

Disclosure of the information “may jeopardize a confidential informant” and hinder the ATF investigation, federal prosecutors said.

Federal authorities confirmed they recovered a small amount of the stick powder, which led to the warrant for Johnson’s arrest. They wouldn’t say where the explosives were found.

Other suspects are being sought, authorities say.

After his arrest, Johnson was treated for minor injuries at Kootenai Medical Center and then taken to Spokane by ATF agents.

Unable to walk, he was pushed into U.S. District Court in Spokane on a swivel chair and then transferred to a wheelchair.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Johnson told U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno that Johnson, who appeared asleep or unconscious in court, had taken methamphetamine before his arrest.

He also was given a mild sedative at the hospital, leading to his condition, the prosecutor told the court.

“Mr. Johnson?” Imbrogno asked the suspect. He wore a blue hospital shirt, cutoffs and had an ankle brace on his right foot and bandages on his right leg.

His head drooped downward, Johnson didn’t respond.

“I don’t believe Mr. Johnson is awake,” the magistrate said, postponing the hearing until this morning.

Authorities issued the federal warrant for Johnson’s arrest last week. He had recently lived in a Post Falls trailer park.

Post Falls Police records showed that Johnson pawned several items at Post Falls pawn shops recently, said Lt. Rod Plank.

On Monday morning, police got a call from someone who had seen the suspect in a pawn shop, Plank said.

Post Falls officers spotted Johnson driving near Pleasant View Road and Interstate 90, Plank said. But when officers tried to stop Johnson, he sped away.

Officers chased the fugitive east on the freeway for 12 miles, at times topping speeds of 100 mph.

Johnson swerved into the left and right hand shoulders of the interstate, pretending to exit several times, Plank said.

As he neared Coeur d’Alene, Johnson sped up the exit ramp toward U.S. Highway 95.

About midway up the ramp, he jerked his car to the left, trying to drive back onto I-90, Plank said. His car lurched over the side of the ramp and crashed into a metal guard rail.

Johnson jumped out of his car and darted across four lanes of I-90 traffic on foot. Idaho State Police Cpl. Pete Bowes ran after him, ISP dispatchers said.

The two made the crossing safely until they reached the westbound onramp on the other side of the highway.

Johnson darted in front of a pickup truck that had just turned onto the on-ramp.

“He wasn’t looking at us, he was looking at the police officer that was chasing him,” said Paula Cutler, a passenger in the pickup truck.

“I tried to swerve out of the way. (But) he was right in front of the truck and - boom - he was down,” said driver Jim Cutler. “There wasn’t much I could do.”

The truck smashed into the fugitive, slamming him to the ground and clipping officer Bowes in the wrist, ISP officials said.

Johnson’s friends described him as a nice man caught up in a bad situation. His friends would not give their names, saying they feared his connections to The Circle, the methamphetamine ring in Spokane and North Idaho.

In June, Johnson and his girlfriend were arrested in Sandpoint on charges of possessing several “rocks” of methamphetamine, court records show. The disposition of those cases could not be immediately learned.

According to Kootenai County court records, Johnson bought 10 acres of land south of Coeur d’Alene in the Windy Bay area. He had been late on the payments but recently brought them up to date.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos


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