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Car bomb injures Arkansas medical official

The chairman of the Arkansas panel that licenses and disciplines doctors was critically injured Wednesday when an explosive device blew up his car as he was leaving home for work.
Car Explosion
Trent Pierce, chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board, was about to leave for work when his car exploded at his home in West Memphis, Ark., on Wednesday.Mike Douglas / AP
/ Source: NBC News and news services

The chairman of the Arkansas panel that licenses and disciplines doctors was critically injured Wednesday when an explosive device blew up his car as he was leaving home for work.

Police said they had no idea why someone would target Dr. Trent P. Pierce, chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board. The explosive device placed on or near the car shattered the front of his white Lexus hybrid in a blast the police chief said could be heard a mile away.

"We don't know if this was a random target or someone specifically targeted him," said West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert.

Authorities believe the doctor was outside the vehicle when the device exploded.

Neighbor Julanne Ingram said she heard the explosion about 8 a.m. "It was a huge explosion," she said. "It rattled the windows in this house."

Pierce, a family physician, was taken to Regional Medical Center in Memphis, where he was listed in critical condition, hospital spokeswoman Sandy Snell said. Paudert said Pierce lost his left eye in the explosion and remained in surgery late Wednesday afternoon, after suffering severe burns to his face and shrapnel wounds.

Paudert said Pierce was sedated and investigators had yet to speak with him.

Pierce had been due in Little Rock later Wednesday in advance of Thursday and Friday's medical board meeting. The board agenda includes at least seven doctors who previously faced discipline.

Board attorney William Trice, of Little Rock, said he knew of no heated disputes involving Pierce and said Pierce, as chairman, often didn't take part in board votes.

"This is just off the wall," Trice said. "It's just such bizarre circumstances."

No known threats
Little Rock police used bomb-sniffing dogs Wednesday afternoon to scan the board's headquarters. State police investigators and Little Rock detectives spoke with workers and accessed Pierce's e-mail account. Officers also planned to provide security during the board's upcoming hearings.

Pierce received no threatening e-mails or letters at work, nor had there been any outbursts during recent meetings targeting him, Trice said. The lawyer said he spoke Tuesday with Pierce and their conversation carried no tension or hints of trouble.

"This is a terrible tragedy," Trice said. "For a man that has given his life to treating patients, there's no justification for this."

The board regulates more than 8,000 doctors, 3,000 therapists and nearly 400 osteopaths. Since 2007, the board has disciplined 33 medical practitioners — including 11 who had licenses suspended or revoked.

Though the motive for the attack was unknown, Gov. Mike Beebe was among those expressing concern for other board members.

"I think law enforcement's reaching out, because you don't know if this was connected to the medical board or it was just something individual," Beebe said. "To be safe, I think everybody's trying alert all the members of the medical board to be able to use extra caution."

Pierce is a family-practice physician whose patients include the West Memphis police chief.

"He was loved and respected by everybody in this community," Paudert said. "He was a kind and gentle person."

Crime scene combed
Pierce's wrecked car sat in his driveway, its hood open and bumper partially torn away.

Police blocked off the tree-lined street about 100 yards from the site. Onlookers could see police officers walking back and forth with dogs, while other investigators wore jackets identifying themselves as members of the Arkansas State Police bomb squad or federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In a statement, the ATF said it sent 18 special agents from three states to investigate the explosion.

Pierce, who is in his 50s, Pierce, is married and has two grown children, Trice said.

He was appointed to the board in January 1997 and reappointed in 2005 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee. The board oversees the practice of medicine in Arkansas and can discipline doctors for wrongdoing, including revoking their medical licenses.

In August, the chairman of Arkansas' Democratic Party was slain by a man who was later killed by officers after he threatened them. The motive for the shooting of Bill Gwatney was never determined.