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Dam Shooter Pleads Guilty, Faces 20-Years In Federal Prison

Randy Scott Vail, the man who shot at Hells Canyon and Brownlee Dams in June 2023, pleaded guilty in federal court to destruction of an energy facility, U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit announced on Friday, March 8.

 Vail, 59, of Meridian, was indicted by a federal grand jury in late August 2023.
 According to an Aug. 8, 2023 Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, he could face up to 20 years in federal prison.
 On June 8, 2023, and continuing into the early hours of June 9, Vail shot at the Hells Canyon Dam and Brownlee Dam hydroelectric power stations, causing power loss and more than $546,000 of damage between the two, according to the DOJ’s press release.
 Brownlee Dam is roughly 58 miles north of Weiser and approximately 28 miles northeast of Cambridge. Hells Canyon Dam is located about 92 miles from Weiser and 62 miles north of Cambridge. Both dams are located on the Snake River along the Idaho-Oregon border and were built, and operated, by Idaho Power Co.
 The dams are essential to electricity production, transmission, and storage in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
 According to the DOJ, in the late hours of June 8, 2023, Vail rode his motorcycle to the top of Hells Canyon Dam, loaded a rifle with ammunition and shot at the power substations, resulting in power loss.
 About an hour later, he rode south to Brownlee Dam and shot at its power substations, resulting in large plumes of sparks, which were visible in the switch yard of the power plant.
 “Approximately 45 minutes after Vail shot the Brownlee Dam power substations, a sheriff’s deputy encountered Vail on a motorcycle on Highway 71 traveling south towards Cambridge, Idaho,” the March 8 press release states. “Law enforcement initiated emergency lights and sirens, but Vail failed to yield and increased speed. After approximately three miles, Vail yielded to lights and sirens, and he was taken into custody.”
 Washington County Sheriff’s deputies, who were dispatched around 12:30 a.m. on June 9, arrested Vail.
 According to an affidavit for probable cause, the deputies attempted to pull over a man driving a white motorcycle that matched Vail’s description. He was spotted at an intersection near U.S. 71 and Horse Flat Road, about four miles west of Cambridge, which is approximately 25 miles southeast of Brownlee Dam.
 According to an Idaho Statesman report, Vail accelerated after deputies turned on their lights and sirens, driving 80 mph through a 25-mph zone in Cambridge, picking up more speed once he reached U.S. 95.
 Vail reportedly stopped the motorcycle near milepost 112 and was arrested.
 Deputies, according to the affidavit, said that Vail, “appeared to hold up a long, black object as we were speeding through the canyon.”
 The object was later identified as a gun case containing two rifles.
 “During a search and inventory of Vail and the motorcycle, law enforcement located bolt cutters, a guitar case housing two rifles, and live and spent ammunition. Vail also was carrying two yellow compressed air tanks with gasoline with the pressure gauge missing,” the DOJ press release stated.
 In addition to federal charges, Vail was charged in Washington County for attempting to flee or elude a police officer and possessing destructive devices or bombs.
 Those charges were dismissed on Sept. 19, 2023, according to court records.
 “The U.S. attorney reached out to us and requested that we let them take the case over and we agreed to that because the penalties that are available through the federal system, and the crimes they have available, are much more stringent,” said Washington County Prosecuting Attorney Delton Walker.
 Deputy Prosecuting Attorney S. Fred Wheeler handled the case for Washington County.
 Vail is scheduled to be sentenced on June 5, 2024.
 A federal district judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
 Several agencies were involved in the case, including the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Meridian Police and Boise Police departments, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office, and Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office, as well as their respective prosecuting attorneys’ offices.

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