Sus­pect dead, 4 hurt in Ga. law of­fice ex­plo­sion

The Covington News - - Crime & courts -

DAL­TON — A bit­ter fam­ily dis­pute over prop­erty in north Ge­or­gia ap­par­ently erupted Fri­day when a 78-year-old man threw an ex­plo­sive into a law firm that rep­re­sented his son, caus­ing a blast that killed the fa­ther and in­jured four peo­ple in the of­fice.

The ex­plo­sion blew out win­dows of the two-story, colo­nial­style house where at­tor­neys worked, and some in the small blue-col­lar town of 30,000 felt vi­bra­tions from more than a block away.

Au­thor­i­ties iden­ti­fied the bomber as Lloyd Cantrell, a man known around town for wear­ing bib over­alls and car­ry­ing a small Chi­huahua. Over the years, Cantrell amassed sev­eral parcels of land in the area, and gave some of the prop­erty to his son.

His son had grown fear­ful of his fa­ther, though, and filed a law­suit seek­ing to keep his dad off the prop­erty the son had been given, claim­ing the elder man stole tools, kicked down a door and was sui­ci­dal.

Au­thor­i­ties said it was too early to talk about a mo­tive in the case, but the dis­pute be­tween the fa­ther and son was well-doc­u­mented in court records.

“Es­sen­tially, what we’ve got here is not an act of ter­ror­ism,” said Scott Swee­tow, an agent with the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives. “It is a de­praved in­di­vid­ual, by all ac­counts, who de­cided to launch what ended up be­ing a sui­cide at­tack.”

Po­lice were called Fri­day morn­ing to a dis­tur­bance at the firm of McCamy, Phillips, Tug­gle & Ford­ham in Dal­ton, 26 miles south­east of Chat­tanooga, Tenn. An of­fi­cer saw a man get out of a sport util­ity ve­hi­cle and run be­hind the build­ing. The ex­plo­sion fol­lowed.

Au­thor­i­ties think Cantrell threw the ex­plo­sive through a front win­dow or door. As of late Fri­day, they hadn’t iden­ti­fied the na­ture of the ex­plo­sive.

In­side the SUV, au­thor­i­ties found cylin­ders of nat­u­ral gas, propane gas and gaso­line, which they care­fully re­moved be­fore tow­ing the ve­hi­cle late Fri­day.

Two of the in­jured were treated at a hospi­tal and re­leased, one was ad­mit­ted and a fourth, an at­tor­ney at the firm, was taken to a burn cen­ter.

A block and a half from the blast site, bank ex­ec­u­tive Wayne Rus­sell said he heard and felt the ex­plo­sion.

“It sounded like a trans­former that’s blown,” said Rus­sell, 53, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Omni Na­tional Bank. “We could ac­tu­ally feel a sort of rock­ing mo­tion from the ex­plo­sion.”

The firm housed the of­fice for Sa­muel L. San­ders, who rep­re­sented Lloyd Cantrell’s son in a bit­ter le­gal dis­pute that dated back at least two years. A po­lice spokesman said he didn’t know whether San­ders was in the of­fice at the time of the ex­plo­sion.

Lloyd Cantrell’s at­tor­ney, David Black­burn, said Cantrell’s son, Bruce, filed a law­suit seek­ing to block his fa­ther from the land, in part claim­ing that his dad car­ried a pis­tol with him and threat­ened to kill him­self.

“He has re­peat­edly said that ‘The only thing that would keep me off the prop­erty is to be put in jail,’” ac­cord­ing to a com­plaint filed by Bruce Cantrell’s at­tor­ney in 2006. Sev­eral at­tempts to reach Bruce Cantrell Fri­day were un­suc­cess­ful.

The case was set to go trial in Au­gust, but it was de­layed.

“I know he got frus­trated be­cause it took so long,” Black­burn said of his client. He de­scribed the fam­ily as “abysmally dys­func­tional.”

“He was a pretty nice old man,” Black­burn said of the fa­ther. “He was a lit­tle can­tan­ker­ous at times, and I think he was re­ally frus­trated.”

Four miles from the ex­plo­sion, in­ves­ti­ga­tors streamed in and out of the sus­pect’s house, which sits on a large wooded lot with a rust­ing trac­tor in front. The white house re­sem­bles a large garage with a small liv­ing area and a cor­ru­gated tin roof. A rid­ing lawn mower and an old recre­ational ve­hi­cle were in the back.

At­tor­ney Robert Smal­ley, a lawyer at the firm, left 15 to 20 min­utes be­fore the blast but turned back when he re­ceived phone calls about it.

“We’ll take to­day with our fam­i­lies and try to re­group,” he said “Our thoughts right now are with the in­jured and their fam­i­lies.”

Po­lice cor­doned off the block and shut down a post of­fice near the law firm, which spe­cial­izes in per­sonal in­jury and wrong­ful death cases, ac­cord­ing to its Web site.

Stu­dents at an ele­men­tary school across the street were evac­u­ated to a nearby church.

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