Booby-trapped wheelchair shoots FBI agent
A simple push on an empty wheelchair injured an FBI special agent while officers were trying to clear a Williams property filled with booby traps reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie.
The agent and three Oregon State Police bomb squad technicians had been acting on a tip and already had found and disarmed several booby traps during an investigation Sept. 7 at 1000 Dreamhill Drive, federal court documents say.
When they opened the door of a manufactured home on the 15-acre property, they found a wheelchair in front of them. One of the OSP technicians pushed the wheelchair forward.
“I’m hit,” the FBI agent told the others. The agent could still stand, but was bleeding “significant” amounts from the leg, court documents say. The team retreated, rendered the agent first-aid and rushed him 15 miles to a hospital in Grants Pass.
The trap was believed to have been made from a combination of household junk, monofilament line and shotgun ammunition, according to an FBI document filed in U.S. District Court in Medford.
OSP had been alerted to the property by Jackson County Justice of the Peace Joe Charter. Also a real estate lawyer, Charter had been appointed as receiver to sell it to settle a $2.1 million judgment in an elder abuse case against owner Gregory Lee Rodvelt.
Charter said he alerted authorities after spotting a sign warning “the property was protected by improvised devices.”
Rodvelt, 66, has been charged in federal court with a felony count of assault on a federal officer.
Police found several traps and homemade weaponized contraptions at Rodvelt’s property, one believed to have been inspired by Hollywood.
A drum-shaped object made from a hot tub was mounted on its side at the top of a hill near a gate, according to the FBI and a photo submitted by Charter.
Opening the gate would remove a shim, prompting the cylindrically shaped hot tub to roll downhill, Charter said.
“It didn’t trip because the bomb squad saw the wire attached to the gate,” Charter said.
As the trap’s inspiration, court documents reference the opening scene in the 1981 movie “Indiana Jones — Raiders of the Lost Ark,” in which actor Harrison Ford outruns a giant boulder in an ancient tomb while on an exotic treasure hunt.
Rodvelt reportedly purchased the gated property consisting of a garage and manufactured home using funds belonging to his nonagenarian mother, according to Josephine County civil court documents and Charter, who has been justice of the peace since 2004.
Junkyard debris littered Rodvelt’s property, Charter said.
The first obstacle the bomb squad faced on Sept. 7 was a booby-trapped minivan that blocked vehicles at another gate. The vehicle didn’t have any explosives, but it’d been rigged with metal teeth from animal traps at several places, according to Charter and the FBI.
Once they disabled the vehicle and Indiana Jones trap, the bomb squad needed to use an explosive charge just to breach the heavy-duty front door at the manufactured home on the property. All windows had reinforced bars mounted from within.
Inside a detached garage were the makings of another trap that hadn’t been set. The improvised device used a rat trap and a shotgun shell, which the FBI says was designed to be triggered by lifting the garage door.
“The bar of the trap would fall on the shot shell primer with the apparent intended results being the discharge of the shotshell,” the FBI states.
After the explosion inside the home, the squad rushed the injured FBI agent to Asante Three Rivers Hospital in Grants Pass. There, an X-ray showed that the explosion lodged a .410 gauge shotgun pellet into the agent’s left leg, just below the knee.
By the time courts unsealed the FBI complaint on Sept. 17, the agent had been released from the hospital, according to the FBI. The agent’s name, along with the names of three OSP technicians, were redacted in court records.
A search warrant on the property yielded an expended .410 shotgun shell casing and an improvised explosive device manufactured from a rat trap, a piece of wood and a piece of pipe.
“The aforementioned wheelchair was also seized,” the FBI document says. “Examination of the wheelchair resulted in locating what appears to be damage caused by numerous .410 shotgun shell pellets.”
By 9:20 p.m. that evening, the FBI apprehended Rodvelt near a grocery store in Surprise, Arizona. During an ensuing interview about the Oregon property, he allegedly warned an FBI special agent, “I would not race right in.”
He remains jailed in Maricopa County, Arizona, on state warrants tied to an armed standoff at the edge of the Phoenix metropolitan area that occurred in the spring of last year.
On April 5, 2017, Rodvelt allegedly barricaded himself in a GMC Yukon SUV with a rifle near the town of Wittmann, beginning a three-hour standoff that required a SWAT team from Surprise, a police helicopter and a crisis negotiation team, according to a press release issued by Surprise Police Department.
For the past week, Rodvelt has been on trial in Maricopa County Superior Court on felony counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest by creating a substantial risk of causing injury to an officer, and on misdemeanor charges that include three counts of failing to mark explosives.
Court records over the past week show that Rodvelt has resisted being transported from the jail to court in the trial, and that he’s refused a court-appointed defense lawyer.
Charter, who’s been following Rodvelt’s criminal case in Arizona, described explosives involved in the Arizona case as blasting caps and alleged bomb-making materials such as pipes. Charter said he’s also heard from private investigators about non-explosive “mechanical nuisances” at Arizona properties tied to Rodvelt since last year, such as mousetraps attached to the backs of doors.
Rodvelt had been held in jail in Arizona starting in April 2017, but courts released him Aug. 16 of this year to attend to his Williams property as part of a seven-figure Josephine County civil judgment against him.
Courts ruled that Rodvelt commandeered six figures’ worth of funds belonging to his elderly mother, and Oregon’s Elderly Persons and Persons With Disabilities Abuse Prevention Act allows for triple damages. Including court costs and attorney fees, the judgment against Rodvelt totaled more than $2.1 million plus interest.
Rodvelt did not appear at the Aug. 22 civil court hearing, Josephine County records show, but Charter had heard from neighbors that Rodvelt was back.
Neighbors described to Charter the sound of hammering and metal grinding through the night while Rodvelt was making his “Indiana Jones” trap. Furthermore, a private investigator lost multiple tires to a hidden homemade spike strip on the remote property in August.
In the weeks since the incident that injured the agent, a team of private contractors consisting of former military experts has inspected the property inside and out.
“They didn’t discover anything more,” Charter said. “That’s reassuring.”
Rodvelt’s contraptions all appear to have been focused on preventing entry, so four visits on the property appear to be another positive sign, but Charter said they may never know for sure whether they found everything.
A neighbor with knowledge of the property’s risks has made a written offer, seeking to secure the 15 acres for a fraction of its assessed $250,000 value.
“The offer is $80,000, so someone is going to get a good deal, but we’ll see what happens,” Charter said.
Charter said the traps were a first for him, and gave him new appreciation for the law enforcement personnel who risked their safety for others. They wore protective gear and equipment, and Charter said they were “as careful as could be.”
“I’m really sorry anyone got injured,” Charter said. “They were doing their jobs.”