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Gunpowder trial

Colebrook police chief describes scene he found after gunpowder plant blew up

LANCASTER — Colebrook's police chief took the witness stand Monday in Coos County Superior Court and recalled for a jury details of the explosion and fire three years ago that destroyed a downtown gunpowder plant and left two of its workers dead.

When Coos County Attorney John McCormick asked Chief Stephen Cass if production machines in the plant had been badly damaged by the blasts, Murray replied, "It wasn't equipment anymore; to me, it was junk."

As the second week of the manslaughter and negligent homicide trial of former Black Mag gunpowder plant owner Craig Sanborn, 64, of Maidstone, Vt., got underway, Cass recalled the moments just after lunchtime on Friday, May 14, 2010.

He said he was sitting at his police department computer about three-quarters of a mile from the plant at 23 Gould St. when explosopns started going off.

"I felt, kind of, the building shake, and then two loud reports. I looked west on Bridge Street, and there was a large cloud of black smoke." Cass said as he arrived moments later at the intersection of Bridge and Gould, firefighters and other emergency personnel started arriving on the run.

"There were small explosions, and the fire department came with a ladder and started putting water on the fire. It took a good hour of pouring water on it before they had it so they could walk in," the chief testified.

The 14-member jury of nine women and five men, including two alternates, had earlier in the day listened as the prosecution presented testimony regarding Black Mag's financial documents.

Cass said an acrid, orange smoke came from the rubble, irritating his eyes and nose. A man he saw at the scene "appeared to be somewhat in shock." Sheet metal that had once been the building's siding had been blasted away and some of the sideing was in nearby trees when Cass arrived.

"A helicopter took a picture of the debris field. It was pretty large, I guess," Cass said.

Someone, he said, asked him if he could enter the building to "identify persons."

Inside laying on the floor the chief found the body of a 49-year-old Stratford man whom he had known well.

"I knew Jesse Kennett. He worked at Ethan Allen 10 years; we worked together," Cass said, at the furniture-making plant that had been one of the North Country's and Northeast Kingdom of Vermont's largest employers before it went out of business. Administrators at the Beecher Falls, Vt., factory laid off about three-quarters of their nearly 400 workers in 2009, then closed the doors for good later that year.

Kennett was killed in the Black Mag blast, as was his workmate, Donald Kendall, 56, of Colebrook. Cass testified Monday he also found the body of Kendall, whom he hadn't known, not far from Kennett's in the area where they had run their mixing and grinding machines.

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