Midshipman to appear in court on bomb charge

If found guilty, $5,000 fine, 6-month sentence possible

October 23, 2001|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

A Naval Academy midshipman charged with possessing a homemade bomb on Assateague Island is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate next month in Salisbury, federal authorities said.

The midshipman, Freeman E.B. Tidaback, 20, drove with classmates Brian W. Ackerson, 19, and Alexander J. Eli Powell, 20, to the Eastern Shore island Saturday, where they built a large campfire on the beach. When park rangers approached the group, they found alcohol and a plastic container filled with gasoline and an electrical "ignition system," law enforcement officials said.

Tidaback was charged with one count of possessing an incendiary device and disorderly conduct for "creating a hazardous condition," said John Burns, a spokesman for Assateague Island National Seashore. Tidaback is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 9 in Salisbury, authorities said. If found guilty of the misdemeanor charge, he could be sentenced to up to six months in prison and fined $5,000, federal authorities said.

The midshipmen were cited for underage possession of alcohol, a charge that carries a $25 fine. The citations and charges were issued by federal authorities because Assateague Island is a national park.

Jack Waldner, bomb squad commander for the state fire marshal, which was called to the scene to examine the device, said his office and the state's attorney's office in Worcester County have agreed to wait until after the federal case is decided to determine whether to press state charges.

"I guess sometimes curiosity gets the best of people," Waldner said, "but if they just understood how inherently unreliable and dangerous these devices are. ... These [midshipmen] are people who should know better."

Burns said Tidaback and the two other students were polite and responsive to the officers.

He said park rangers have stepped up patrols of the beaches and campgrounds since the summer, when a 19-year-old drunken driver was killed leaving the park. Burns said the number of citations for underage drinking has more than doubled from this time last year.

The three students have returned to the academy, where they could face disciplinary action. School officials contacted the fire marshal's office to get details yesterday. A spokesman for the academy declined to comment.

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