The victim of a chemical bomb detonation near Fort Polk last year is preparing to tell his story before a judge this month as the soldier responsible faces sentencing.
Ryan Keith Taylor, 25, will face sentencing by a federal judge in Lafayette on Sept. 24 after pleading guilty in June for producing, possessing and using a chemical weapon outside of Fort Polk on April 12, 2017.
Officials said that the chemical weapon released chlorine gas that permanently disabled military police investigator Joshua Farbro, who was the lead investigator assigned to the call on that fateful day.
“Every day is a new day, but some days are a lot more difficult to get through than others since then,” Farbro stated.
As an investigator at the installation, Farbro had a promising military career ahead of him. He was a team leader and sniper for the SWAT team and was an instructor at the local law enforcement academy. He had just begun his journey to becoming a member of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, but the incident on April 12 forced him into a medical discharge and uncertain future.
“In one single day I went from being in peak physical fitness to having 20 percent lung capacity at 25 years old,” Farbro stated. “My military career was over and now I’m told that I’m too much of a medical liability to be considered for employment in any capacity. Everything I had worked so hard for, given my all for, was ripped away from me.”
According to Fort Polk officials, shortly after noon on that day, authorities received a report of a person setting off explosions in a nearby training area. Minutes later, officials said, authorities located a vehicle believed to be in connection with that incident parked outside the education center on post. Farbro and other detectives arrived on scene and began a search of both the explosion site and the suspect’s vehicle where they encountered an unknown chemical substance.
The toxic level of that substance, Farbro said, became clear to him as he collected samples for testing.
“At one point my hands began burning and when I looked down I saw that my latex gloves were literally melting away. It was right after that I felt a shortness of breath and dizziness, and after that I passed out,” he stated.
Farbro and other first responders were transported to Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital for immediate treatment. After some testing, he said, it was determined that he suffered chemical burns to his throat and lungs. It was some time before the exact chemicals were identified, Farbro said, and in that time his right lung and throat had collapsed. Just as they had destroyed his gloves, the chemicals had eroded the tissues in those organs away, the doctors told him.
“I was on 16 different medications and four inhalers at one time just to keep my throat passage open and attempt to heal the damage. One doctor looked at me and told me that it was a miracle I was even alive,” Farbro stated.
Earlier this year, Farbro underwent a throat tissue transplant and reconstructive surgery in order to repair the serious damage done to his larynx. Scar tissue continues to cover both lungs, and he has been told by doctors that if alternatives fail he may one day need a lung transplant. That surgical process, however, may be too dangerous to even perform.
“Because my lungs are not fully functioning, they can’t expel the chemicals that are still inside of them. The doctors have told me that they are afraid if they open up my chest the chemicals could spread to the rest of my body,” he stated.
Because the nerves connecting Farbro’s throat muscles to his brain have been destroyed, he said he finds fear even in sleep because the slightest stress can cause his throat to collapse. That fear, combined with the consistent pain in his throat, makes for a never ending cycle of second-guessing his actions on that day.
“It’s inescapable. With every breath I take I walk back through that day and every one of the steps I took. I wonder every time if there was just one thing I could have done differently to avoid all of this.”
When he thinks about the upcoming sentencing, Farbro said he wants Taylor to pay for stealing his life and career from him, but even more so he wants the judge and others to fully understand the dangerous intentions Taylor had that day.
According to officials, on the evening of April 12 Vernon Parish authorities conducted a search of Taylor’s residence in the Mona Lisa apartment complex in New Llano where detectives recovered a pipe bomb and other bomb materials.
“I have heard people talk about this case and people just don’t think it was that big of a deal. I want the judge to know that this is a big deal - even if I’m the only victim with permanent damage,” Farbro stated.
“This could have been so much worse; this could have been horrible. I want people to understand that.”
Taylor is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison.