Was the Virginia armored vehicle joy ride a KILLDOZER copy-cat crime?
As I write this I don’t know if the theft and joyride of an armored personnel carrier by an Army 2nd Lieutenant in Virginia on June 5 was a KILLDOZER copy-cat crime.
But I think it’s oddly coincidental that it took place only one day after the 14-year-anniversary of the KILLDOZER rampage in Granby, Colorado.
In the KILLDOZER rampage, Marv Heemeyer took his armed and armored Komatsu bulldozer on an attack through Granby, destroying or damaging 13 buildings, firing his rifles at police and a neighbor and causing $10 million worth of damage.
Even more strange for me personally is the fact that the June 5 event happened in Richmond, Va., where I lived for many years before heading out to Colorado.
Here’s what happened, based on press reports from Reuters and the Richmond Times Dispatch.
A soldier named Joshua Phillip Yabut, a 29-year-old first lieutenant in the Virginia Army National Guard, stole an armored personnel carrier from a National Guard base in Virginia on Tuesday June 5. (The KILLDOZER rampage took place on June 4, 2004.) Yabut took the vehicle on a two-hour drive that ended in a police chase through downtown Richmond, the state capital.
Yabut took the vehicle at about 7:50 p.m. from Fort Pickett, an Army National Guard base in Blackstone, Virginia. The suspect then drove the military vehicle, which was not equipped with any weaponry, east on Route 460 and then north into Richmond on Interstate 95 at about 40 miles (65 km) per hour.
KILLDOZER was armed while this wasn’t
While Yabut’s vehicle was armored, it was not armed. Heemeyer’s bulldozer-tank was armed with three rifles poking through the armor, one of them a 50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle.
Once in Richmond, several police squads followed the armored personnel carrier, which travels on tracks similar to a tank, through downtown as it headed toward the Capitol building.
Capitol police officers with combat-style rifles guarded the entrance to Capitol Square as a police helicopter shined a spotlight on the vehicle and police worked to stop traffic, the Times Dispatch reported.
At about 9:40 p.m. local time, the driver drove the armored vehicle onto a median and was surrounded by police, ending the 60-mile (95 km) pursuit, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Police tazed the suspect. He was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of drugs, felony eluding of police and felony unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Follow-up reporting by the Richmond Times Dispatch states that Yabut is a Richmond soldier who filed paperwork earlier this year to run for the U.S. Senate and recently worked as a researcher at NASA.
Yabut, a company commander in the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, “was conducting routine training at Fort Pickett when he drove away in the armored personnel carrier” just before 8 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the National Guard. They said he has 11 years of service and deployed to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009 with the Illinois National Guard.
The driver was active on-line and with social media
Yabut posted pictures and video of himself on Twitter inside a heavy-duty military vehicle shortly after the pursuit began. About six hours before that, he appeared to hint at his plans for the day, sharing a screenshot of a map of Capitol Square with a pin in the Capitol building paired with the Wikipedia entry for the M113 armored personnel carrier, a tracked vehicle that resembles a tank with no turret and is similar to the M577 Yabut allegedly stole.
His Twitter presence is prolific and at times strange. On Tuesday, Yabut retweeted a Bernie Sanders post criticizing the executive compensation of Walt Disney Company’s CEO, a Virginia State Police public message about move over awareness month, and a news story about President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel a planned visit of Philadelphia Eagles players to the White House.
In messages he authored, he wrote:
“what i learned in the army is to never volunteer for anything with that being said im looking for a few volunteers”
“all i wanna do is get an anime wife”
“just received instructions from my local clergyman”
“where is this damn water buffalo”
“wow i think i just discovered a large illegal spy operation in the us government”
The caption of the photo he shared of himself in what appears to be an armored vehicle is “wutang clan ain’t nothin to f— wit booiiiiiiii” and he makes “W” hand sign in the image. Wu-Tang Clan is a popular hip-hop group from New York City.
The video he shared around the same time appears to have been shot while he was driving an armored vehicle and shows only his back.
While there are no clear indications about what might have sparked the theft of the vehicle, Yabut’s online presence offers a detailed account of his past and current pursuits.
He filed paperwork in February to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate seat held by Tim Kaine, but was notified in March that his application lacked adequate information, according to Federal Election Commission records. There is no response on file but in social media posts he shared the status of his effort to get the state’s voter file and solicited signatures to make the ballot.
From November 2014 to April 2017, Yabut worked as a cyber security researcher in the office of the chief information officer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Langley Research Center, agency spokesman Michael Finneran confirmed.
“He left to pursue opportunities elsewhere,” Finneran said. “I talked to a couple people who worked directly with him and they didn’t have anything negative to say about him and said he was a pretty smart guy.”
He also led the development of a niche cryptocurrency called ZenCash, according to posts by the project’s team, which say he abruptly left the effort last year.
People who live and work in Jackson Ward, where Yabut lived, were shocked to learn the alleged driver lived in their neighborhood. Neighbors described Yabut as quiet and someone they didn’t often see around the neighborhood, and definitely not the type of person you would expect to take an armored vehicle for a spin through city streets.
KILLDOZER copy-cat up to a point
While the similarity with Heemeyer’s escapade extends to the fact that Yabut was driving an armored vehicle through city streets, many other comparisons end there. Heemeyer fired his weapons at people. Yabut’s vehicle had no weapons. Heemeyer deliberately destroyed buildings while Yabut did no such thing.
Yabut walked out of his vehicle after it stopped and was shortly thereafter tazed and arrested. Heemeyer never left his home-made tank, killing himself shortly after it stalled from overheating.
Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a KILLDOZER copy-cat element behind what Yabut did. After all, Heemeyer has gained notoriety on-line and elsewhere as the “last great American folk hero,” something Yabut could have stumbled upon while on-line.