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Wheatfield bombing suspect had to have leg amputated after explosion

A federal court hearing Thursday related to the immediate future of Wheatfield bombing suspect Michael C. O’Neill was ordered continued to Aug. 5.

O’Neill, 45, had to have his left leg amputated after the July 21 explosion in a Walmore Road garage and, after several days of hospitalization at Erie County Medical Center, has been moved to a rehabilitation unit.

At Thursday’s detention hearing before Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott, Defense Attorney Joseph M. LaTona said his client is “physically incapable” of fleeing.

“He’s going nowhere, judge,” said LaTona, who noted that detention could preclude O’Neill’s rehabilitation, which includes three hours a day of physical therapy, as well as training on using a walker and moving himself from a bed to a wheelchair.

If put in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, O’Neill would be handcuffed to a bed, his attorney said.

LaTona also questioned whether the accusation against his client falls within the category of a “crime of violence.” He asked the judge to maintain “status quo” while legal issues are researched.

Monday, O’Neill pleaded not guilty to possession of an unregistered destructive device. His arraignment was held in ECMC, and at that time he waived his right to be present for the detention hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank T. Pimentel told the judge Thursday that he was ready to proceed, saying it was important to establish the government thinks O’Neill is a danger to the community.

Investigators said O’Neill initially told them he was making explosives for tree stump removal. He reportedly told them the explosion occurred while he was using extra materials from M80 explosives to make “something” and the device ignited while he was trying to seal it with a heat gun.

Investigators said O’Neill dropped the device to the garage floor and was trying to stomp it out when it exploded.

A search of the garage yielded seven improvised explosive devices – including one packed with shrapnel, authorities reported afterward.

Several other items related to making explosive devices also were found in the garage.

The Walmore Road property is owned by O’Neill’s stepfather, Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield.