Trending Topics

Ore. FBI agent shot by booby-trapped wheelchair

The federal agent and state officers triggered a tripwire inside a home during an investigation

By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
The Oregonian

JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. — They slipped by the minivan outfitted with the spring-loaded jaws of animal snares and avoided a circular hot tub turned on its side and designed to roll over trespassers who triggered a tripwire — something reminiscent of “a scene from the movie ‘Indiana Jones.’”

But the FBI special agent and three state police bomb technicians never made it past the empty wheelchair inside the manufactured home they entered on the southern Oregon property, court records say.

With the slightest push, the wheelchair opened fire.

“I’m hit!” the federal agent yelled as blood gushed from his leg, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Medford.

The law enforcement officers had responded to the home in Williams, a town of 2,200 people in Josephine County, on Sept. 7 at the request of a real estate lawyer tasked with selling off the property, court records show.

They soon discovered elaborate booby traps sprinkled throughout the 15-acre spread off Dreamhill Drive, the complaint alleges.

Spike strips at the bottom of the driveway. A rat trap rigged to fire a shotgun round when some someone tried to open the door to a detached garage.

Authorities say the makeshift weapons were the handiwork of former owner Gregory Lee Rodvelt, 67, who was forced to forfeit his property as part of an elder abuse case brought against him.

In 2016, Rodvelt’s then 90-year-old mother and her guardian filed a civil lawsuit in Josephine County, which resulted in a $2.1 million judgment, against the son, court records show.

Though an armed standoff outside Phoenix landed him in jail last year, Arizona officials released Rodvelt from custody for two weeks in mid-August so he could tie up loose ends and prepare to turn over his property, according to the federal complaint.

Joseph Charter, the estate’s acting receiver, contacted authorities on Aug. 29 when he discovered a sign posted on Rodvelt’s property that claimed it was now “protected with improvised devices,” according to court records.

Ten days later, the FBI agent and state bomb technicians set out to dismantle the property’s assorted booby traps, including the hot tub that had been placed at the top of a hill near a gate by the entrance of the home.

“Upon closer examination, the technicians discovered that the spa was rigged in such a manner that when the gate was opened it would activate a mechanical trigger that would cause the spa to roll towards the person at the gate,” the complaint reads.

"[It was] much like a scene from the movie ‘Indiana Jones - Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in which actor Harrison Ford is forced to outrun a giant stone boulder that he inadvertently triggered by a booby trap switch.”

After slipping by the hot tub, the bomb squad and FBI agent approached the property’s manufactured home and blasted open its fortified front door, the complaint says.

Inside the home, court records show, they discovered in the hallway a wheelchair that, unbeknownst to them, was outfitted with a fishing line, shotgun ammunition and other items.

Somehow, the wheelchair got pushed and triggered the explosion that wounded the agent.

The agent was rushed to a hospital in Grants Pass, about 15 miles away. An X-ray found a .410-gauge shotgun pellet in the agent’s left leg below the knee.

Rodvelt was questioned by authorities back in Arizona and eventually charged. He faces one felony count of assault on a federal officer.

Records show Rodvelt faces charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest and failure to mark explosives in connection to his arrest stemming from the 2017 standoff.