Image: Police outside Ark. medical board
Mike Wintroath  /  AP
Little Rock, Ark., police cruisers are stationed outside the Arkansas State Medical Board building on Thurday to keep a close eye on who parks next to the building.
updated 2/5/2009 4:56:54 PM ET 2009-02-05T21:56:54

Federal agents investigating a car bombing that critically injured a state medical board official focused Thursday on a tire the victim reportedly was trying to move from his driveway just before the blast.

Dr. Trent P. Pierce, 54, remained in critical condition at a hospital Thursday, a day after the bomb blew up as he prepared to leave for work. The chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board lost his left eye in the blast, suffered burns and was pelted with shrapnel.

Pierce "is conscious and responding," board member Joseph Beck told colleagues Thursday at their previously scheduled meeting in Little Rock. "I know our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Pierce and his family."

Beck said surgeons worked to save Pierce's right eye, and that Pierce's wife told him doctors also placed an oxygen tube in the injured doctor's throat.

Scott Ferguson, a West Memphis doctor and family friend, said Pierce's family told him a tire had been left in the way of Pierce's hybrid Lexus sport-utility vehicle Wednesday. Ferguson said Pierce apparently leaned down to move the tire out of the way just before the explosion.

Austin Banks, a senior special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said investigators want to learn more about the tire.

"This is a lead we're going to follow up on," he said.

Medical board members attempted to carry on business as normal at Thursday's meeting, even as ATF agents pulled them out for interviews and Little Rock police guarded the building.

Medical board records probed
ATF agents poured over the panel's disciplinary records, paying close attention to its split decisions. As a habit, Pierce cast a deciding vote only when the board's 12 other members couldn't resolve cases. Agents also wanted to look at lawsuits involving the family physician, most of which have been settled.

Beck questioned whether a board decision played any part in the bombing.

"Any time a person's professional license is at stake, emotions run high, but that's been going on for years with this board," the Little Rock doctor said. "This was something atypical and terrible."

Banks, the ATF agent, said residue and remains from the bomb had been sent to the agency's laboratory in Atlanta. Banks described the bomb as homemade, not manufactured dynamite or a military-style explosive.

The agent said bombs have certain characteristics that make them traceable, much like ballistics tests on bullets.

"The signature of the device is pretty much identified by the maker," Banks said. "That's our job — to put it back together and find out who did it."

Explosion heard a mile away
The explosion, just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, could be heard a mile away in West Memphis, a small town just across the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tenn. Police later impounded Pierce's Lexus as evidence, its bumper and grill partially torn away by the blast.

Pierce, who is married and has two grown children, was appointed to the state medical board in January 1997 and reappointed in 2005 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The last major bombing case in Arkanas came in 1982, when the blasting cap of an explosive went off under the car of Alice McArthur, an oil heiress living in Little Rock. McArthur, who suffered minor injuries in the blast, was shot to death in a contract killing a few months later. Mary Lee Orsini received a life sentence for McArthur's slaying and died in prison in 2003.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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