Reports of an explosion turned out to be the break needed in the investigation of recent attacks on the electricity supply grids. In a joint press release, Christopher R. Thyer, Arkansas eastern district U.S. attorney, and James Hendricks, acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Little Rock Field Office announced the arrest in the string of attacks.
Jason Woodring, 37, of Jacksonville, was arrested Saturday on a criminal complaint charging him with destruction of an energy facility. An affidavit filed by FBI special agent Dixon Land alleges that Woodring is responsible for multiple acts of sabotage to the power grid in Central Arkansas.
According to the affidavit, Woodring admitted responsibility for all three incidents.
The arrest came after Lonoke County Sheriff’s deputies responded to reports of an explosion on John Shelton Road in Jacksonville.
Agents from the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force were called in when deputies and Entergy Arkansas employees determined the explosion occurred under power lines. The site is near Woodring’s residence.
At the scene, officials found a blue hose similar to evidence found at one of the attacks on the power grid.
Woodring’s arrest came after information collected in interviews made connections to the previous power grid attacks. Woodring’s initial appearance in federal court could be on Tuesday.
The power grid investigation began Aug. 21, 2013, with the sabotage of a high voltage power line support tower at Cabot. In that attack, an attempt was made to use a passing train to destroy a power line tower near Arkansas Highway 321.
Investigators found that a shackle supporting a 500,000-volt power line was severed, allowing the power line to fall on a nearby railroad; the cable was severed by a train, causing a power outage in Cabot. However, Entergy rerouted the power, mitigating the affect of the outage.
It was at this site that blue hose similar to that found near, and later at, Woodring’s residence was found.
Investigators believe the blue hose was used to insulate the power cable from the railroad tracks. Railroad officials told investigators that without insulation, the power lines would have triggered alarms when it touched the tracks.
According to the affidavit, investigators believe the cable was propped up in an attempt snare a train and use it to pull down the tower.
Also, during the investigation officials learned that railroad safety inspectors had found indications that at least one attempt may have been made up to two weeks prior to the Aug. 21 attack.
"Given the complexity of these plans and the efforts need to execute them, agents believe the individual(s) responsible for these acts visited the scene on one or more occasions before implementing the plans in order to scout the area…" the affidavit states.
The affidavit reported that Woodring said he had tried about three times to destroy the tower. On one attempt a power line touched the track triggering a train signal — teaching him to insulate the power line.
During interviews by federal agents, Woodring admitted he had done the three incidents.
Woodring said it took about a month to remove the bolts on the tower a few at a time. He also described cutting the power line connectors, cutting the inside shackle first so the power line would not swing into the tower and kill him. It took three attempts before he was able to drop the power line.
Woodring, a pool maintence worker, said he used the blue hose as an insulator after triggering a train signal when a cable touched the track.
The second power grid attack was on Sept. 29, at an Extremely High Voltage (EHV) switching station, owned by Entergy, at Scott in Lonoke County.
According to the affidavit, alarms indicating multiple problems at the station brought responders who found the EHV station on fire.
A message at the entrance to the station read, "You should have expected U.S." Entergy representatives estimate the damage to the switching station at more than $2 million.
Woodring said he watched the EHV site for a few days before setting the fire. He set the control building fire with gallon of of E85 ethanol gas and motor oil. He entered the station by cutting the fence and then cut 2 padlocks. Once inside, he poured the gas mixture on a table and into a hole behind the control panel where wires go into floor.
The third attack was Oct. 6, and was reported by First Electric Cooperative (FEC). That attack caused a power outage in Jacksonville and affected about 9,000 customers.
Two power poles had been cut and one pulled down causing the downing of a 115,000-volt transmission line. The tractor allegedly used to pull down the pole was stolen from a location directly across the street from Woodring’s residence.
The affidavit states that Woodring told of borrowing a chainsaw and using it to cut through a utility pole and guide lines. However, the pole did not fall. Woodring then told of returning with an axe, chainsaw and splitting wedge and cutting through a second utility pole, which also did not fall.
"So Woodring stole tractor from across the street from his residence, drove the … tractor to the poles and used a winch to pull down the pole (which still only fell partway)," the affidavit states.
In the press release Thyer remarked that central Arkansas residents "can rest a bit easier today with the arrest of Jason Woodring." The power grid attacks had the potential to put many lives at risk, … "not knowing where the next attack would occur held the public hostage to an unknown attacker," he said.
Thyer thanked all the investigators from the FBI; Joint Terrorism Task Force; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Union Pacific Police, Entergy, First Electric, Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, Cabot Police, Arkansas State Police, Conway Police Department, Little Rock Police Department and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for their commitment to this investigation these past few months.
Assistant U.S. attorney Michael Gordon is assigned to prosecute the case.
A federal Grand Jury will now decide whether to indict Woodring on these charges. If convicted, Woodring faces a possible sentence of not more than 20 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine followed by three years supervised release.