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High-profile explosion lights up low-profile site

Self-defense instructor is seriously wounded at Timber training ground

A serious accident near Timber has put the spotlight on a remote, low-profile training ground which draws a wide range of gun users, from paramilitary to ex-military to Washington County law enforcement agencies.

The Joint Regional Operations Center was the site of an explosion around 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15.

According to Sgt. Vance Stimler of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, a group of former military and law enforcement officers were using a highly explosive substance, Tannerite, during a firearms training session run by Scott Turner, a NW Self-Defense Education instructor. Placed behind the door of a car being used in an exercise, the Tannerite exploded when struck by a bullet, sending shrapnel into the 42-year-old Turner, an Albany resident.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Ray had no information on whether someone mistimed the explosion or underestimated its strength or overloaded the Tannerite.

“What went wrong is they put explosive stuff in the car,” Ray said. “I can’t think of anything good that could come of putting Tannerite in a car and then detonating it.”

The sheriff’s office has interviewed quite a few people involved in the incident but “what their purpose was we still don’t know,” Ray said.

Turner was treated by a medic on the scene, then taken by Life Flight to Oregon Health & Science University with multiple life-threatening injuries, Stimler said.

According to the Facebook page of Robert Banes, one of Turner’s friends, Turner was struck in the wrist and chest. But he apparently recovered quickly.

“Last night, shortly after landing in the ER and having surgery, he was handing out business cards to the nursing staff,” Banes wrote Sunday. “He is doing great, and is up joking and talking.”

While the accident took place at 72000 N.W. Cochran Road, the site of the Joint Regional Operations Center, according to Stimler, a JROC spokesperson insisted JROC had nothing to do with it.

“No JROC staff were present and this was not a JROC event,” Jennifer Knowles wrote in an email. Neil Simon, the media contact for JROC, answered a call from the News-Times but declined to talk and had Knowles deliver the official statement. Neither responded to further requests for comment.

“NWSDE rented privately held land for an authorized training exercise Saturday in Timber, Oregon,” Knowles wrote. “The training was held on land also used to offer training by the JROC Foundation, a public-private non-profit collaborative.”

The “privately held land,” according to a 2014 article on the website of Leupold & Stevens Inc. — a JROC partner and Beaverton-based manufacturer of telescopic sights, red-dot sights, spotting scopes and binoculars — is owned by Brian Lynott, an Aloha businessman who is also the JROC founder.

Lynott apparently felt the 83-acre site, a former rock quarry with eight different climate cycles, would be ideal for the “reality-based training needed to prepare agencies for modern, real-world challenges,” as the JROC website states. “JROC allows agencies to conduct all needed shooting requirements, as well as train with explosives, smoke and tear gas.”

For more than a decade, law enforcement agencies, including fire departments, paramedics and search-and-rescue teams, have trained there, according to the website. Many are from Washington County, sources say. Usually, the agencies bring in their own certified trainers, “allowing them to control all their own scenarios within JROC’s standard range safety plans,” the site states.

Some of the groups, such as NWSDE, include paramilitary and ex-military members.

Todd Steward, who lives about six miles from the site, stumbled onto one such training session several months ago when he and his son were hiking the Tillamook Railroad line and heard gunfire. They went to investigate and met an instructor with SOCON (Special Operations Connection), which “connects Military and Law Enforcement with like-minded patriots that choose to be ready, choose to be prepared,” according to the soconusa.com website.

“They offer firearms training courses,” said Steward, a U.S. Air Force veteran. “We can hear them at night when they’re training.”

Steward said he’s not concerned about fire danger from the gunfire or explosives because the rock quarry has no vegetation. “The closest tree is way up the mountain.”

Forest Grove Fire & Rescue Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer agrees. “Before that site was JROC it was an open rock pit that I personally shot at numerous times,” he said. “At that time, hazards were non-existent if you were shooting in the pit itself.

“That being said, it is Oregon Department of Forestry’s area to set conditions, and I know Tannerite is not allowed on public lands right now,” he added. “Not sure if the same rules apply to private properties.”    

Steward is not concerned about the possibility of another training accident. Since meeting the SOCON instructor, he said, “I’ve been trying to get in there to take some of his classes.”