A federal judge sentenced five men on Thursday for their roles in a 2012 explosion in Louisiana that created 7,200-foot mushroom cloud in the sky.
The strange saga involved turning a Louisiana National Guard facility into “the largest illegal dumping ground of military explosives in the history of the United States,” prosecutors said. The defendants were handed down prison sentences ranging from two to five years for participating in a criminal conspiracy the Department of Justice said in a statement.
The group included the owner and four employees of Explo Systems, Inc., a private company that claimed to demilitarize or dispose of munitions. Explo Systems had won an $8.6 million Army contract in 2010 to disassemble, empty, and recycle 1.35 million propelling charges of the explosive material M6 at the Louisiana National Guard facility Camp Minden.
The company then leased an underground bunker at Camp Minden where it improperly stored 42,240 pounds of M6 and clean-burning igniter, “much of it in bags in the open,” according to state police. On October 15, 2012, the munitions dramatically exploded.
The blast shattered windows within a four mile radius, derailed 11 rail cars, and spurred the evacuation of the nearby town of Doyline, Louisiana. National Weather Service radar showed a 7,200-foot smoke plume resembling that of a wildfire, and some locals initially speculated the explosion was caused by a meteorite. There were no fatalities.
“It was about a quarter to (midnight),” a resident of nearby Jefferson, Louisiana told the local Longview News Journal. “And I was in bed. It felt like the house vibrated, and then the roof creaked. I said, ‘Man. What is that?’”
US District Judge Elizabeth Foote ruled that the men misled the Army about their ability to properly dispose of the materials. This included falsifying documents and certificates, and preventing authorities from inspecting their operations.
Explo Systems co-owner David Alan Smith was sentenced to 55 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and a payment of $34,798,761 in restitution to the federal government.
The others—vice president of operations William Terry Wright; program manager Kenneth Wayne Lampkin; traffic and inventory control manager Lionel Wayne Koons; and director of support technology Charles Ferris Callihan—will all serve between 2 and 5 years in prison, paying a combined total of $598,000 in restitution.
All of the defendants pleaded guilty. The second co-owner of Explo Systems, David Fincher, died before the trial could start.