ALFRED – A man who has a history of possessing illegal explosives was making pipe bombs Friday morning when an explosion blew off part of one of his fingers, a federal agent said.

Robert W. Infante, of Alfred, faces new federal charges, of possessing a destructive device. He was being held at Cumberland County Jail.

Infante, 47, initially told rescue workers that he got hurt while filling his butane lighter, according to an affidavit filed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in U.S. District Court in Portland.

He refused treatment in an ambulance and drove himself to Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford about 9 a.m.

Infante later told an investigator for the state Fire Marshal’s Office that he “has a fascination with pipe bombs” and had made four of them Friday morning, according to the affidavit.

He told investigators that he was using explosive powder scraped from “snap caps” into a pill bottle and mixing it with black powder to make pipe bombs when he dropped the bottle and caused the explosion.

Infante was convicted in Vermont in 1988 of possessing a destructive device, making false statements and manufacturing destructive devices.

Authorities said he doesn’t appear to be associated with any political or organized criminal group. He is expected to be arraigned Monday morning in U.S. District Court.

Firefighters who responded to the explosion at his house found several pipe bombs and more than 100 marijuana plants growing in the basement, according to the affidavit, prepared by ATF Agent Paul McNeil. Members of the state police bomb squad found five pipe bombs in the Toyota Camry that Infante drove to the hospital.

Infante told fire marshal’s investigator Dan Young that he kept pipe bombs on his clock radio in his bedroom, in his top dresser drawer and on top of a trunk in his bedroom, the affidavit said.

 

Capt. Mark Cunningham of the Alfred Fire Department and Michael Keeley, an investigator with the Fire Marshal’s Office, inspected Infante’s basement and saw about a dozen pipe bombs, 10 inches long by 1½ inches in diameter, McNeil said in the affidavit.

Keeley also reported finding a shotgun leaning inside the front door and a coffee can full of ammunition, which Infante is barred from possessing because of his past convictions.

 

Keeley also saw what appeared to be blood spattered on the work bench where the pipe bombs were, as well as a pile of nuts, bolts and other hardware, the affidavit said.

Infante initially reported an explosion of liquefied propane. An ambulance crew met him at the bottom of Avery Road and a rescue worker saw that his left hand was wrapped in a bloody shirt.

 

He was missing the end of his middle finger, with the bone exposed, and his left thumb had a deep cut on it. His chest had fine, powdery burn marks, the affidavit said.

At Southern Maine Medical Center, where Infante had emergency surgery, police cordoned off the emergency department’s parking area about 10 a.m. and shut down Route 111 there for several hours.

That backed up traffic onto the nearby Maine Turnpike ramp and on Route 111 south and north of the hospital, and barred access to the hospital and many businesses.

 

In the hospital’s parking lot, members of the bomb squad used specialized equipment to blow open the car’s trunk and some of its doors.

Often, a bomb squad uses a disruptor, which fires a column of water with the speed of a bullet, to disarm potential explosives.

Shortly before 3 p.m., the car was determined to be secure and traffic was allowed to resume. The bomb squad then went to Infante’s home and made sure federal agents could search it safely.

 

Authorities evacuated houses near Infante’s and kept members of the media at a distance where they could not see the house.

The affidavit describes Infante’s home at 60 Avery Road as a tan, two-story Cape-style house about a mile from Gore Road. In the gravel driveway was a school bus with the words “Milton, Vt.” on the side.

 

Keeley said he could see fireworks in the bus, including a box labeled “nine two-inch mortars,” according to the affidavit.

Residents described Avery Road as peaceful, and several said they had never heard explosions.

Chris McKinney said his wife was asleep Friday morning in their home, about 150 yards away, and the blast didn’t wake her.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]