A Naperville man who set fire to a West suburban radar facility during a suicide attempt, temporarily paralyzing national air traffic, plans to plead guilty next month so that he can be transferred to a prison capable of treating his mental health problems, his lawyer says.
“Brian Howard has from the first day accepted responsibility for what he did,” Howard’s attorney, Ron Safer, said Thursday. “He tried to take his own life and in the course of doing that he damaged the facility and he has always taken responsibility for that.”
Safer made the comments after a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason, during which Howard pleaded not guilty to charges of willfully damaging an air navigation facility and using fire to commit a federal felony.
Safer said Thursday’s not guilty plea was a formality that gives prosecutors and Howard’s legal team time to work out details of the guilty plea Howard plans to enter on June 4.
Howard, 37, is currently being held at the Kankakee County Jail, which offers no mental health services.
“He has mental health issues and he’s suffering,” Safer said. “He’s not getting treatment. We will ask for the judge to recommend that he be sent to federal medical facility.”
“He’s extremely remorseful that he caused inconvenience, anxiety and more beyond anything that he imagined,” Safer added. “He believed the facility would be out of service for hours and cause a minor disruption. He never dreamed this would happen, nor that he would be alive to see it.”
On Sept. 26, Howard, who was employed as a contractor by the Federal Aviation Administration, walked into the air traffic facility in Aurora and sliced telecommunication wires and set a fire before cutting his throat and wrists.
The sabotage stranded thousands of air travelers and disrupted flights for several days. It also caused the FAA to reassess its backup systems. In November, FAA chief Michael Huerta outlined a three-stage plan that would allow the country’s air traffic control system to recover in hours, rather than days, from a disaster — but only if it gets more resources.
Howard thought his actions would have limited consequence beyond his own demise, according to a Facebook posting.
The only way chaos could break out, Howard wrote, was if government employees bungled their response to his sabotage efforts at the Aurora facility — earning their reputation for being “lazy and useless.”
“The outage I’m about to take should not take a large toll on the air space as all comms should be switched to the alt location which will most likely cause some delays,” Howard wrote in the private Facebook post. “That being said, who knows what else will become a factor due to gov’t employees being in control of the upcoming situation.”
Howard posted the comments minutes before attempting suicide.
The posting alarmed a family member, who called police. About the same time, an employee at the facility called authorities to report a fire in the control center.
The incident raised concerns about how Howard was able to enter the Aurora facility with gasoline and a knife and prompted Huerta to call for more money for security.
In the Facebook posting, Howard said he was “stoned and nervous” about the actions he was about to undertake And he said he had little hope for humanity, referring to the public as “lazy.”
“I have no faith. Not in humanity anyway, you are all about death,” he wrote.
After ranting about the U.S. government, he closed by apologizing to his family for “leaving you with a big mess.” Then he turned to the task at hand.
I “feel like I give a s – – – for the first time in a long time again . . . but not for too long (haha!),” Howard wrote. “So I’m gonna smoke this blunt and move on, take care everyone.”