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Man pleads guilty to destruction of energy facility for shooting at 2 Idaho Power hydroelectric power plants

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BOISE, Idaho (KIFI) – A 59-year-old Meridian man pleaded guilty to destruction of an energy facility in Idaho, U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit announced Friday.

According to court records, on June 8, 2023 and continuing into June 9, 2023, Randy Scott Vail shot at the Hells Canyon Dam hydroelectric power station and the Brownlee Dam hydroelectric power station causing power loss and substantial damage to both. The Hells Canyon Dam and the Brownlee Dam are located on the Snake River along the Idaho-Oregon border and were built and are operated by Idaho Power Company. The dams are essential to electricity production, transmission, and storage in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

Specifically, in the late-night hours of June 8, 2023, Vail arrived on the top of Hells Canyon Dam via motorcycle, loaded a rifle with ammunition and discharged the rifle, shooting at the power substations.  As a result, power loss occurred at Hells Canyon Dam. Approximately one hour later, on June 9, 2023, Vail arrived via motorcycle to the Brownlee Dam. Vail again loaded a rifle with ammunition and shot at the dam’s power substations. As a result, large plumes of sparks were visible in the switchyard of the power plant.

Approximately 45 minutes after Vail shot the Brownlee Dam power substations, a sheriff deputy encountered Vail on a motorcycle on Highway 71 traveling south towards Cambridge, Idaho. 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. 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.

Damage and loss to the hydroelectric power stations was at least $546,982.46. In addition, the loss in power production at both facilities reduced capacity for Idaho Power, reducing power capacity in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and thus caused a significant interruption and impairment of the function of the energy facilities.

Vail is scheduled to be sentenced on June 5, 2024 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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