Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Oshkosh man detained at Mercy said he carried fireworks for protection, forgot them when admitted

A patient who brought explosive devices into Mercy hospital faces a Class H felony charge.

By Miles Maguire
The explosive devices that were discovered this month at Mercy hospital were brought into the facility by a patient who said he carried them for protection because, as a felon, he cannot own a gun.

Steel M. Lee was charged Nov. 26 with possession of improvised explosives. In speaking with police, he called them “firecrackers.”

Authorities described the devices as 1-inch tubes packed with “pyrotechnic or flash” powder. One was 4 inches long while the other was 5 to 6 inches long. They each had a wick inserted in the middle.

Lee, 29, told police he never intended to hurt himself or anyone else and that he forgot that he had the devices when he checked himself in for treatment of an infection.

When police arrived at the hospital, Lee “appeared to be very paranoid and was potentially having a mental health crisis,” according to court papers. “He believed that the government was out to get him and that there was a ‘hit’ out for him.”

The devices were discovered after Lee was caught smoking a cigarette in his bathroom, according to the criminal complaint. Nurses then searched Lee’s belongings and found the first device.

When confronted by a security guard, “Lee responded that he did not have a gun and the device was his only protection.” He later told police that there was a second device “in a lunch pail next to his bed.”

Both devices were taken to a parking lot of the hospital, known officially as Ascension NE Wisconsin - Mercy Campus, until the arrival of the Brown/Outagamie County Bomb Squad.

A member of the squad took samples of the wicks and the gray powder that was found in the tubes. The devices were placed in a metal container and driven to the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.

Later testing led authorities to conclude “that due to the confinement of the powder, the device would have detonated with the capability to cause bodily harm, death, or, at a minimum, property damage.”

Court records show that Lee has had repeated run-ins with the law. In July he entered a no contest plea to a charge of exposing himself while ordering food at Leon’s Frozen Custard on Murdock Avenue. In 2016 he pleaded no contest to a charge of dealing methamphetamine.

The explosive device charge is a Class H felony that could lead to a $10,000 fine and a prison term of six years.

The Mercy incident was preceded by a string of bomb threats by a former Oshkosh resident, who has since been ordered to undergo a competency evaluation. The bomb threats and the discovery of explosive devices at Mercy are unrelated.

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