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Man arrested in Fairbanks blast had prior encounter with troopers

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 7:30 am | Updated: 12:27 pm, Thu Feb 7, 2013.

FAIRBANKS—A Fairbanks man accused of setting off last week’s Chena Ridge explosion was arrested Wednesday morning at Fairbanks International Airport while trying to leave the state.

Guy “Chris” Mannino, 54, is charged with one count of third-degree criminal mischief, the crime of recklessly putting more than $100,000 of someone else’s property at risk “by the use of widely dangerous means.”

The criminal complaint against Mannino alleges the blast, reported at 4:10 p.m. Saturday, damaged at least six houses surrounding a Heather Way personal shooting range. The force of the blast did at least $15,000 in property damage to area homes, a sum that is expected to rise as more reports come in.

Alaska State Troopers say the investigation is continuing.

Explosions were nothing new for neighbors of the shooting range, owned by Craig O’Donoghue. Between May 19 and Aug. 21, Alaska State Troopers opened at least 13 cases related to complaints about the property.

In the most recent, and most forceful explosion, troopers determined Mannino ignited the blast. An informant working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was “bragging about the explosion,” according to the complaint. The informant is not named in the complaint.

“The informant stated that Mannino offered to show him an explosion, citing that he wanted to get rid of old/excess ordnance,” trooper Lucas Altepeter wrote in the criminal complaint.

The informant took a cellphone picture that indicates as much as 300 pounds of explosives were used, and he said Mannino used a system made of explosive detonation cord, a Dyno Ap mining charge and booster charges to set off the larger charge.

Mannino is a licensed federal explosives dealer and was familiar with the effects of the explosives he is accused of using, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors have asked Mannino to be classified as a flight risk, which would make it difficult for him to be released from jail on bail. When he was contacted at the airport, he was “carrying a large amount of firearms, gold and cash,” according to the criminal complaint. He was arrested without incident.

Dave Arieno, a friend of Mannino's in Anchorage, told the News-Miner by telephone Wednesday evening that Mannino had existing plans to move to the Lower 48 and objected to troopers’ description of him as a flight risk. “His house is on the market. His family has already moved,” Arieno said. “He’s not fleeing from prosecution. He’s just going back and forth.”

Mannino previously had been charged in association with his activities at O’Donoghue’s range, though prosecutors dismissed charges in the last case.

According to a criminal complaint filed in August, troopers investigated in May when a neighbor reported “shrapnel was falling on his property.”

The investigation of that incident led troopers to O’Donoghue’s range last year, where they and Mannino got into an argument. Troopers ended up handcuffing Mannino and forwarding charges of misdemeanor disorderly conduct and weapons misconduct to the district attorney. The district attorney withdrew those charges in September.

The criminal complaint against Mannino in the earlier case, written by trooper Sgt. Jess Carson, states troopers first spoke with one of O’Donoghue’s neighbors on Hans Way. During the interview, explosions and gunfire could be heard down the hill at O’Donoghue’s shooting range.

Carson and another trooper said they took out an AR15 rifle and a shotgun, which they slung at their sides as a precaution, and went down to investigate. At O’Donoghue’s range, the troopers said they encountered a group of about 10 people, among them Mannino and O’Donoghue, and a number of guns.

Troopers asked Mannino twice what he was blasting and he said only that he was blasting, according to the complaint.

“When asked again what he was blasting, Mannino stated he was blowing up stumps, shooting dynamite and screwing around as much as he wanted because he had a license to do that,” Carson wrote in the August complaint. Mannino said he had a license for blasting and had called troopers dispatch in advance to say he was going to be blasting.

The conversation became more tense at this point, according to the complaint. Troopers said Mannino reported he was scared because troopers had their guns with them. Troopers said Mannino’s body language was aggressive.

“Mannino’s appearance and body movement was not that of being scared but rather (of someone) being agitated,” Carson wrote.

In an ensuing struggle, Carson said he ordered his partner to handcuff Mannino. When Mannino resisted, they both tackled him, he said. Three trooper reinforcements arrived, including Fairbanks-area trooper commander Capt. Burke Barrick.

Mannino wasn’t arrested. Charges were filed in August but later dismissed by the prosecution in September.

“Mannino wrote a letter of apology to the troopers involved for the manner in which he verbally confronted them,” Fairbanks District Attorney Mike Gray stated in an email explaining why he dismissed the earlier charges. “When all the facts were known it ended up looking like more of a misunderstanding than a crime, and I treated it as such.”

The new charge against Mannino, he said, “is an entirely different kettle of fish.”

Contact reporter Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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