Updated: Man found guilty in River Creek explosion
A jury of eight women and four men convicted Austin Albert Callahan of two counts of manufacturing an explosive device.
Jurors recommended a fine of $50 for each charge.
Police on Aug. 30 arrested Callahan, 10 days after setting off what authorities referred to as a pipe bomb near the 12th hole of the River Creek Golf Club.
According to evidence presented at court, a friend of Callahan's texted him, “Before you leave, we should all get together and blow something up.” Callahan responded, “I can do that. I do enjoy blowing stuff up.”
A credit card linked Callahan to the purchase of galvanized pipe from the Home Depot in Leesburg; the college student also admitted to purchasing fuse and end caps.
Callahan drilled a hole into the pipe, filling it with combustibles from a legally-purchased fountain firework. At around 9:45 p.m., he detonated the device.
“I thought it was something massive, like an airplane crash,” said Anne Flam, who lives near the 13th hole.
Loudoun County Sheriff's Office deputies and members of the Loudoun County Fire Marshal's Office arrived at the scene around 11:15 p.m., locating the device, though the end caps had been blown off.
On Aug. 24, the Fire Marshal's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the local police searched Callahan's family home on Sandpiper Place, where they found a second device. Callahan was later arrested.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Eric Pohlner brought in experts in explosives, electronic devices and chemistry, though Judge Stephen Sincavage prohibited witnesses and attorneys from referring to the device as a pipe bomb in fear of prejudicing the jury.
“Ladies and gentleman, this isn't a whodunit case,” Pohlner told the jury during opening statements as he held a blown up picture of the device. “This is about whether you accept the defendant's story that he wasn't building explosives, he was building fireworks.”
Defense attorney Todd Sanders framed the scenario differently as he held up the same photo Pohlner used during his opening statement.
“Look's pretty big, doesn't it?” Sanders mused. “You're going to see this is just like the commonwealth's case. It makes it look bigger than it is.”
Sanders argued that Callahan, who is studying to be an engineer, wasn't trying to build a bomb or injure anyone, noting he set off the device in the evening, when the golf course was devoid of people, and away from anyone's personal property.
“Sometimes young men do stupid things, make fireworks, make things go boom,” Sanders said. “He probably shouldn't have, but that's what kids, that's what young men do sometimes.”
Sanders also noted that the material came from legally purchased fireworks and that the statute makes detonating fireworks an exception.
The jury ultimately ruled that Callahan's device did constitute an explosive device and not a firework. But when given the option of a maximum $2,500 fine for each charge and as many as one day to 10 years incarcerated, they elected for a fine totaling $100.
A formal sentence is scheduled for Oct. 10 before the trial judge. Sincavage may reduce the sentence, but not impose a harsher penalty.