A Utah man who chose to fire shots at a substation transformer has been indicted on a federal offense of destruction of an energy facility.
Injudicious choice of a target
57 year old Stephen Plato McRae of Escalante, Utah is charged with a federal offense of firing shots at the Garkane Energy Cooperative’s Buckskin substation transformer which left a transformer severely damaged and large portions of Kane and Garfield Counties without power for eight hours. According to the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Utah, on September 25th 2016 a witness to the investigation of the transformer shooting led authorities to a firearm belonging to McRae which was believed to have been used in the destruction of the substation transformer.
Up to 32 years and $750,000 for federal offense
18 U.S. Code § 1366 states “Whoever knowingly and willfully damages or attempts or conspires to damage the property of an energy facility in an amount that in fact exceeds or would if the attempted offense had been completed, or if the object of the conspiracy had been achieved, have exceeded $100,000, or damages or attempts or conspires to damage the property of an energy facility in any amount and causes or attempts or conspires to cause a significant interruption or impairment of a function of an energy facility, shall be punishable by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both.” Beyond the possibility of 20 years in federal prison, McRae is also facing 10 years in prison for illegal possession of a firearm and two years for possession of a controlled substance. Along with a possible combined prison sentence of 32 years, McRae also faces fines totaling up to $750,000.
Federal offense vs state offense
Destruction of an energy facility which is defined by 18 U.S. Code § 1366 as “a facility that is involved in the production, storage, transmission, or distribution of electricity, fuel, or another form or source of energy, or research, development, or demonstration facilities relating thereto, regardless of whether such facility is still under construction or is otherwise not functioning (. . . )” is considered a federal offense and those found guilty will face time in federal prisons located outside the state of Utah. Although shooting at a transformer was obviously a foolish choice, it may be difficult distinguishing what constitutes a federal crime and what is considered by the State of Utah to be criminal mischief. Utah Code 76-6-106 states: “A person commits criminal mischief if the person ( . . . )recklessly causes or threatens a substantial interruption or impairment of any critical infrastructure.” Critical infrastructure can involve many systems including “any public utility service, including the power, energy, and water supply systems”. Anyone facing state or federal charges is encouraged to seek counsel from a reputable criminal defense attorney.