Wheatfield bomb suspect has leg amputated

James Neiss/staff photographerInvestigators go over the scene following an explosion in a garage in the 6700 block of Walmore Road on July 21.

BUFFALO — A Wheatfiled man, accused of making bombs in the garage of his Walmore Road home, will remain free until at least next week.

A detention hearing for Michael O'Neill, set for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, was cancelled after his attorney told a magistrate judge that his client could not appear because he had his leg amputated.

Defense attorney Joseph LaTona told Magistrate Hugh Scott, that O'Neill, who suffered what had been described as a "catastrophic foot injury" when he "stomped" on burning gun powder, had his left leg amputated and is undergoing rehabilitation at the Erie County Medical Center.

"He's not going anywhere," LaTona told Scott. 

LaTona also argued to the magistrate that placing O'Neill under the supervision of U.S. Marshals would interfere with medical treatment and recovery.

O'Neill, 45, has been hospitalized since just after Niagara County Sheriff's deputies found him lying on the ground near his Walmore Road garage, after a report of an explosion there in the early morning hours of July 21. Two days later, federal authorities charged him with possession of an unregistered destructive device.

In a criminal complaint filed in the case, agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and investigators with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office said they found what appeared to be seven improvised explosive devices (IEDs) inside the garage where O'Neill said he had been "working on something.

The garage is detached from a home at 6761 Walmore Road that is owned by O'Neill's stepfather, longtime Niagara County Legislature Chairman William Ross.

According to the criminal complaint, six of the explosive devices were constructed of hard cardboard tubing with sealed ends and fuses. Another device, labeled “Powder w/Nails," was constructed using a flashlight with sealed ends and hole with a wick coming from its center.

Investigators also said they found two pill bottles labeled flash powder, a bag of potassium perchlorate, 36 shotgun shells with reloaded fragments inside and a plastic bottle of triple seven powder. All of those items are frequently used in the construction of homemade bombs.

An X-ray of the flashlight device, by members of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department Bomb Squad showed multiple nails and BBs inside it. The device also contained suspected explosive flash powder.

Investigators seized three computers from O'Neill's home, but have not said what, if anything, was found on the hard drives. 

LaTona told Scott he wasn't sure his client committed a violent crime because he was using the explosives to remove tree stumps. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of New York scoffed at that suggestion.

Federal prosecutors have asked that O'Neill be "detained" and "held by U.S. Marshals" because he represents a threat to the community. Sources have told the Gazette that O'Neill may hold "some extreme views," but did not elaborate on what those views were.

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