Profession

Bomb severely injures Arkansas medical board chair

Local police, FBI and ATF agents are investigating an attack on the family physician, who was badly burned in the blast.

By Brian Hedger — Posted Feb. 19, 2009

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Law enforcement agencies are investigating an apparent car bomb that injured the chair of the Arkansas State Medical Board.

Trent P. Pierce, MD, lost an eye and sustained burns over about 18% of his body when the explosive device went off in his driveway Feb. 4 in front of his Lexus Hybrid SUV in West Memphis, Ark. He has undergone multiple surgeries at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis in Tennessee to remove shrapnel and perform skin grafts.

Dr. Pierce's longtime friend and neighbor, radiologist Scott Ferguson, MD, said doctors think Dr. Pierce will regain vision in his right eye and make a full recovery.

Dr. Ferguson said doctors told him most of the burns on Dr. Pierce's face and portions of his arms and left leg were flash burns. "Though the burns looked very bad, they were not deep burns. After they cleaned him up, they saw that he has good, healthy tissue left and he should heal very well."

Dr. Pierce, 54, was on his way to medical board meetings in Little Rock, Ark., when the blast occurred. The family physician was appointed to the board in January 1997 by then Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Dr. Ferguson said he talked to a witness who saw a tire leaning against the front bumper of the SUV before the explosion. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives did not return phone calls. West Memphis Police Chief Robert Paudert would not confirm or deny that a tire was placed in front of Dr. Pierce's vehicle.

"All we're saying, officially, is that it was an explosive device," Paudert said. "I've been quoted as saying we're at a dead end, but it's really not. We have about 200 leads. It can't be a dead end until we've exhausted all the leads we've had, and we've still got weeks and weeks of work left to do."

Digging for clues

Nearly 50 agents from the ATF and FBI are investigating, with assistance from local police. Police are guarding Dr. Pierce and his family 24 hours a day. Paudert said security has been bolstered for physicians in West Memphis, and Dr. Ferguson said a bomb-sniffing dog checked his vehicle as a precaution.

Investigators went to the medical board meetings that Dr. Pierce was supposed to attend and interviewed his colleagues. They also examined past cases in which he cast a deciding vote. As chair, Dr. Pierce votes only on split decisions.

According to news reports, agents are looking at Dr. Pierce's dismissal as a co-defendant from a state Supreme Court appeal in a wrongful death lawsuit. According to foxnews.com, the case was brought against Dr. Pierce, a nursing home operator and others by the estate of Norma Louise Ramsay, who died at age 92 in July 2004. Dr. Pierce was the medical director of the West Memphis nursing home until June 2004.

Paudert, though, cautioned against making any premature links to the bombing.

"The problem is we don't have answers yet," he said. "We don't know anything that can lead us to say that he was in fact a target, or this was some psychotic out here planting bombs. We just don't know."

The medical community nationwide has rallied around Dr. Pierce. Doctors from the West Memphis community and surrounding areas have been keeping his practice running, while primary care physicians from 22 states have offered to come to Arkansas and help, Dr. Ferguson said.

Calls and letters have poured into the Federation of State Medical Boards, said Barbara Schneidman, MD, MPH, FSMB interim president and CEO.

"We're so saddened by this tragic event," she said. "From the very minute that we were informed of this happening, we have been following it detail by detail. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Pierce family and the whole Arkansas medical community."

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