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News / Northwest

Idaho man, 59, who shot at, damaged 2 dams gets probation

Prosecutors say he was driven by anti-government views

By Nicole Blanchard, The Idaho Statesman
Published: June 6, 2024, 9:06pm

A Meridian man who shot at and damaged two Idaho hydroelectric dams nearly a year ago was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay restitution to Idaho’s largest utility.

District Judge B. Lynn Winmill sentenced Randy Vail, 59, to five years of probation and ordered him to pay nearly $550,000 to Idaho Power for damaging its equipment, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney for the District of Idaho.

Last June, Vail rode his motorcycle to the top of Hells Canyon Dam late at night and fired a rifle at power substations. An hour later, he did the same at Brownlee Dam. Idaho Power said the shootings caused a brief power outage and damaged equipment.

After the shooting, Vail fled from sheriff’s deputies in Washington County as they attempted to pull him over. Charges related to that incident were dropped to prevent double prosecution on the same charges, state officials told the Idaho Statesman.

Vail initially faced two counts of destruction of an energy facility. He pleaded guilty to a single charge in March, while the second was dismissed at the prosecutor’s request.

Each charged carried a possibility of 20 years in prison.

Vail’s actions were motivated by “anti-law enforcement and anti-government sentiment,” according to the news release. While Vail was incarcerated, he told loved ones the government is “illegitimate” and said he didn’t recognize the authority of judges, sheriffs, the governor or the federal government, the news release said. Vail’s statements were made to family members during calls that were recorded.

“In Vail’s own words, he wanted to ‘make a statement’ and stated that ‘we need a revolution or a civil war,’” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit said in the news release that Vail’s actions put the power supply at risk. He clarified that Vail was prosecuted for his illegal conduct, not his beliefs, which officials said stemmed in part from reading and watching online conspiracy theories and anti-government propaganda.

“This case shows that our way of life is threatened when people begin to believe that ideology can somehow justify violence,” Hurwit said. “It never does.”

Substations in North Carolina, Washington and Oregon were damaged in attacks last year. At one point, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a bulletin that “domestic violent extremists” have looked at attacking electrical and communications infrastructure “as a means to create chaos and advance ideological goals.”

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