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Charges Amended Following Mail Box Bombings

By Staff | Apr 1, 2008

After a review of the case and circumstances, Clay County authorities have amended charges against five area youths following an incident earlier this month involving the destruction of several mailboxes by explosives. According to Clay County Sheriff Randy Krukow and Clay County Attorney Michael Houchins, Federal charges against the five youths have been dropped in the incident, due in part to the fact that the individuals and their parents had given authorities full cooperation in the course of the investigation.

The youths, 15-year old Justin Alan-Lee Titus and 17-year olds Shawn Robert Molitor, Ryan Joseph Hoffman and Alan Jay Japenga, all of Ruthven, and 15-year old Chan Wei Li of Ayrshire, were all originally charged with 17 counts of Destruction of Letter Boxes, a Federal Felony, and seven counts of Destruction of Letter Boxes with an Explosive Device, a state felony charge. All five youths were cited into Juvenile Court in Clay County and eventually released to the custody of their parents or guardians following their arrests back on March 8.

The five teens now face charges of Reckless Use of an Explosive Device, a Serious Misdemeanor, and Third Degree Criminal Mischief, an Aggravated Misdemeanor. Under the Code of Iowa, an Aggravated Misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison, while a Serious Misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison. The two 15-year olds remain in the juvenile court systems, while the 17-year olds will waiver into the juvenile court system. Additionally, charges of Third Degree Criminal Mischief have been filed against 18-year old Tyler Enderson of Ruthven in connection with the incident.

The incident began back on March 8 when a caller alerted the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to a mailbox that had been damaged at 8:13 a.m. While a deputy was en route to investigate the initial complaint, several other calls came in to the sheriff’s office, including a call from a United States Post Office mail carrier, all reporting incidents where rural mailboxes had been damaged by some type of explosion. In a few cases, the doors of the mailboxes had been blown open, and in a few instances, the mailboxes had been destroyed, blown into pieces.

Preliminary investigation by law enforcement found that devices referred to as “MacGyver” bombs were responsible for the damage. The devices, named after a television show in the 1990’s, are made with a mixture of household chemicals such as vinegar and aluminum foil, which is placed in plastic bottles and ultimately explodes due to the chemical reactions of the ingredients.

United States Postal Inspectors and law enforcement halted mail delivery in Clay County, and a robot from the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s office was used to check mailboxes and remove devices. In all, 17 mailboxes were damaged or destroyed in the incidents. Authorities covered 1,200 miles of roads in Clay County that day, and inspected some 1,200 mailboxes in connection with the incidents before allowing mail delivery to resume.

Information gained in the course of the investigation led to the arrest of five juveniles later that night.

If the federal charges had not been dropped against the five youths, the potential sentences upon conviction would have been much more severe. The maximum sentence for Destruction of Federal Property is a three-year prison sentence. However, if the destruction involves the use of any type of explosive device, an additional 10 years is added to the sentence for the offense.