A chemical company owner who sent residents of upper Bucks County into a panic two summers ago was sentenced to up to two years in jail and a decade on probation on Monday in a plea deal that spared him from state prison.
David Surman Jr., 32, of Quakertown, was the focus of a monthslong FBI-aided manhunt in 2018 after residents in the rural tip of the county complained of mysterious late-night explosions.
He was finally connected to the bombs — some of which left large craters along country roads — when a state trooper spotted him and his girlfriend, Tina Smith, fleeing the scene of one explosion.
Surman pleaded guilty Monday to possession and manufacturing of a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to possessing and manufacturing a weapon of mass destruction. He also pleaded guilty to criminal use of a communication facility and unlawful use of a computer for a large cache of child pornography detectives found on an external hard drive while investigating the bombs.
As part of the plea, Surman was sentenced to one day less than a year to one day less than two years in the county jail and will face a combined 10 years of probation after his release.
Smith, 32, was sentenced to 4½ years of probation after pleading guilty to possessing explosive or incendiary materials.
Surman told Judge Raymond F. McHugh that he had “acted with immaturity” by creating and detonating the bombs, but “never with malice.”
“I want the community to know they are safe,” Surman said. “I would never hurt another living thing. ... I never even wanted to scare anyone.”
Throughout the winding legal saga that ended Monday, the couple’s respective attorneys argued that the explosives were harmless, closer to fireworks than weapons of mass destruction.
Smith’s attorney, Robert Goldman, said after the hearing Monday that she “took responsibility for doing some very stupid things.”
“These things were over the lawful limit for fireworks, and they enjoyed tossing these out in farm fields and having explosions. Just for fun, not to hurt anyone,” Goldman said. “The fact that farm fields were selected speaks for itself, that there was never any tossed toward a house or a person.”
The more serious charges both faced were dismissed by prosecutors, led by Deputy District Attorney Antonetta Stancu. Stancu said in court that the decision was made in part because the defendants had no previous convictions and no one was hurt by the explosives.
She said afterward that the lengthy supervision both will undergo would ensure that they will “be under a tight watch.”
“It clearly showed a risk to the community,” she said of their behavior. “I don’t see how anyone could’ve thought it was fun, but clearly we’re so grateful no one was injured in all of this.”
After Surman’s arrest in June 2018, investigators from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives discovered large homemade explosive devices at his home and office, Consolidated Chemicals & Solvents. Surman founded the company, which sold small batches of chemical compounds through online merchants.
Alongside the bombs, one of which was 18 inches long, detectives uncovered a rambling manifesto that included a cartoon of Surman and Smith driving away from a mushroom cloud.
Investigators alleged that Surman would build the bombs using his knowledge of chemicals, and Smith would drive around in her Ford Explorer as Surman lit the bombs and threw them out of the passenger window.