Ohio Man Sentenced To More Than Eight Years In Prison In Towboat Pipe Bomb Case

An Ohio man convicted of throwing pipe bombs onto two tows moving on the Ohio River will spend more than eight years in prison for the offenses.

U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger of the Southern District of West Virginia sentenced Nathaniel Blayn Becker, 43, of Marietta, Ohio, to a prison term of eight years and one month on December 1. He was remanded into the custody of the Bureau of Prisons and ordered to be given credit for all time previously served to which he is legally entitled. The judge also recommended that Becker undergo a comprehensive mental health assessment.

Becker filed an appeal of his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit the same day. Attorney Charles Michael Henter was appointed to represent him.

Becker was convicted by a federal jury on April 19 of two counts of placement of a destructive device on a vessel and two counts of possession of an unregistered destructive device following a two-day trial in Charleston, W.Va. Following his prison sentence, he will be subject to a three-year supervised release period and must pay $400, according to the final judgment entered against him.

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According to evidence presented at trial, law enforcement officers recovered a pipe bomb from an empty barge in the tow of the mv. Janis R. Brewer of Crounse Corporation on October 21, 2021, and two pipe bombs from the deck of the mv. Connie Kay of Campbell Transportation Company on October 25, 2021, near Parkersburg, W.Va. The devices were described as a piece of pipe with end caps and a protruding fuse.

 An affidavit from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent Sean McNees attached to the criminal complaint filed in the case showed one of the bombs included a label and bar code that made investigators suspect the component had come from an area Lowe’s store. Store loss prevention officers were able to retrieve transaction details and security footage showing a man buying the merchandise.

On October 27, 2021, investigators were watching vehicles in the area around the Lowe’s store when McNees and an FBI agent saw a red Ford Escape pull into the Lowe’s parking lot. The driver matched the man seen in the surveillance video.

He was later identified as Becker. After police performed a traffic stop on the vehicle, Becker was arrested.

While searching the vehicle, investigators said they found two pieces of pipe and the clothing the man on the surveillance video had been wearing.

Security footage from Lowe’s and the Walmart in Marietta also showed Becker carrying pipe bomb components toward the Interstate 77 Ohio River bridge, just north of Parkersburg, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia, which prosecuted Becker. Investigators believe the pipe bombs were dropped from the bridge.

Investigators also found two similar devices on the mv. Findlay, owned by Marathon Petroleum Corporation, October 26, 2021, shortly after it passed beneath the I-77 and Williamstown bridges during an inspection before it entered a lock. However, those devices were found to contain non-explosive septic tank cleaner. As a result, Becker was not charged in connection with that incident.

Becker testified on his own behalf at the trial, denying his guilt and saying he was on the riverbank fishing and hunting for arrowheads at the time the pipe bombs were thrown.

In a sentencing memorandum, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua C. Hanks argued for a harsh sentence, saying “defendant’s conduct had a profound effect on Ohio River commerce and the expenditure of public resources. At trial, the court heard evidence that shipping was halted for hours on each of the three occasions that defendant placed destructive devices or hoax devices on the barges.”

Becker was on probation at the time he was charged with the offenses, following his conviction for failure to comply with an order or signal of a police officer in the Washington County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas on August 28, 2020. Prosecutors said Becker had brandished a knife at an officer during a traffic stop on February 3, 2020, then led police on a car chase before barricading himself in his home. He was arrested after a standoff with law enforcement.

“This was a very concerning case to me because not only did it put the workers of the tugboats at risk, it also put the general public at risk because these pipe bombs were dropped from a major interstate bridge,” U.S. Attorney Will Thompson said. “This case was also very perplexing to me because even as of today, we have yet to find a motive of what made Mr. Becker want to do this. That’s concerning to me now and also concerning to me when Mr. Becker is eventually released.”

Thompson made the announcement and also commended the investigative work of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the assistance provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the West Virginia State Police, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Parkersburg Police Department, the Wood County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Office.

Thompson also previously thanked Lowe’s, Walmart and the towboat owners for “their extensive cooperation” in the case. 

“Nathaniel Becker showed complete disregard for public safety,” ATF Special Agent in Charge Shawn Morrow said. “His actions could have resulted in death or serious injury to citizens, as well as first responders who rendered those devices safe. “This case demonstrates ATF’s commitment to reducing violent crime involving the criminal misuse of explosives and it highlights strong interagency cooperation across multiple jurisdictions. I commend the ATF Charleston Office, the United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners for working together to hold Becker accountable.”