David City man makes plea deal and is convicted in pipe blast that injured teen relative


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OSCEOLA, Nebraska — A 63-year-old David City man has made a deal with prosecutors and been convicted of seven counts stemming from a pipe explosion that seriously injured a teenage relative on Independence Day last year.

Russell Hilger pleaded no contest to attempted felony assault, misdemeanor reckless assault and five counts of criminal mischief, the Columbus Telegram said (http://bit.ly/1ogNCVi ). He made the pleas last week in Polk County District Court, after prosecutors reduced the felony assault charge. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 3.

Hilger told an investigator that he just wanted to make a big bang, so he put black powder into a 2-foot-long pipe that was an inch in diameter and was welded to a base plate. He said he stuffed in three towels as he'd been taught once by a rodeo clown.

Hilger set off the device during a July Fourth family gathering last year at Ernst Lake, which sits a few miles south-southwest of Columbus.

The blast sent pipe pieces everywhere, hitting five vehicles, penetrating a cabin wall and tearing through a nearby tent.

Inside the tent was Lauren Campbell, 14 at the time, who was hit in the abdomen. She lost her spleen and part of her pancreas but otherwise has recovered.

Hilger is her great-uncle.

Hilger didn't face any explosives-related charges, said prosecutors, because the gunpowder-and-steel pipe didn't meet the law's description of a bomb or destructive device. His stated intent was to make a big bang, prosecutors said, not to hurt anyone.


Information from: Columbus Telegram, http://www.columbustelegram.com

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