WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (AP) - According to his wife, an Arkansas doctor critically wounded when a bomb exploded in his driveway was awake and responsive Thursday morning after several overnight surgeries, a colleague of the doctor said.
Dr. Trent P. Pierce, chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board, remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition. His wife said he was able to respond to doctors, a day after a bomb shattered the front of his Lexis hybrid and left him with severe wounds, board member Dr. Joseph Beck said.
Pierce lost an eye and suffered severe burns to his face and shrapnel wounds. He underwent several surgeries overnight, including a procedure to remove fragments of the car from his neck, Beck said. Doctors also inserted a breathing tube down his throat.
But doctors believe they can save Pierce's other eye, said Beck, who addressed board members in Little Rock while presiding over a previously scheduled meeting of the state medical board, which licenses and disciplines the state's doctors.
Police said they had no idea why someone would target Pierce. Investigators plan to review any lawsuits or professional matters that might have involved Pierce, but the family doctor did not perform any controversial procedures such as abortions.
Board attorney William Trice said he knew of no heated disputes involving Pierce and said Pierce often didn't even take part in board votes. He said Pierce received no threatening e-mails or letters at work, nor had there been any outbursts during recent meetings targeting him.
"This is a terrible tragedy," Trice said Wednesday. "For a man that has given his life to treating patients, there's no justification for this."
West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert said after the blast that investigators were baffled.
"We don't know if this was a random target or someone specifically targeted him," Paudert said. He said it wasn't known if the doctor was in his car or outside it when the device exploded.
The FBI said a second person was injured outside Pierce's home, but Paudert said only one was hurt. The discrepancy could not be resolved immediately.
Pierce had been due in Little Rock later Wednesday in advance of Thursday and Friday's medical board meeting. The board agenda included at least seven doctors who previously faced discipline.
Little Rock police used bomb-sniffing dogs Wednesday afternoon to scan the board's headquarters office. State police investigators and Little Rock detectives spoke with workers and accessed Pierce's e-mail account.
At Thursday's board meeting, plainclothes investigators with the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Explosives stood in the lobby of the board offices, watching those who entered, and Little Rock police stationed a cruiser next to the building. Staffers were told not to park directly in front of the building so police could keep a close eye on who parked there.
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.
Bill Sadler, a state police spokesman, said troopers across Arkansas interviewed board members and other staffers to see if there had been any threats. Sadler declined to say whether their investigation showed any link between the bombing and the board's recent actions.
"If there is anything that would indicate in the investigation that someone's life would be in danger, this department would take the necessary steps to protect those individuals," Sadler said.
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."
State Rep. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, asked state lawmakers Wednesday to keep Pierce in their prayers.
"Trent is the epitome of what a community doctor should be," Ingram said.
Pierce's car sat wrecked in his driveway, its hood open and bumper partially torn away.
In a statement, the ATF said it sent 18 special agents from three states to work the explosion.
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, who is in his 50s, 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.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Peggy Harris contributed to this report from Little Rock.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)