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Explosions in Bucks County tied to chemical-company owner David Surman Jr.

The rural region has been rocked by more than 20 mysterious, middle-of-the-night blasts since early April.

Police closed this road while investigating a chemical storage facility in connection with the series of mysterious blasts that have rattled Upper Bucks County in recent months.
Police closed this road while investigating a chemical storage facility in connection with the series of mysterious blasts that have rattled Upper Bucks County in recent months.Read moreVinny Vella / Staff

A Bucks County man faces criminal charges, including possessing a weapon of mass destruction, after authorities raided his rural home early Thursday during an ongoing probe into explosions in the area.

David Surman Jr., 30, has also been charged with reckless endangerment, possession of offensive weapons, possession of a controlled substance and other crimes, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said.

"This did not materialize overnight," Weintraub said. "This arrest today was literally months in the making."

Surman owns Consolidated Chemicals & Solvents, a small-scale company that sells chemical-based products mostly through online retailers, including eBay. He's currently locked in a legal battle with his local township over the company, which officials say operates without proper zoning permits.

Investigators from a variety of local agencies were assisted in their probe by state police detectives and agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives. The federal agents have been active in the county since April, when the late-night explosions were first reported in a series of adjacent townships about an hour from Philadelphia.

Together, they served search warrants Thursday at the home Surman shares with his girlfriend on Old Bethlehem Pike in Milford Township, as well as his business on nearby Spinnerstown Road.

Surman's girlfriend, Tina Smith, is not facing criminal charges and is cooperating with the investigation, according to police.

At Surman's home, investigators discovered methamphetamine, 10 firearms and four explosive devices, one of which was 18 inches long and bore four fuses, according to Weintraub. He said the device was "ready to be detonated" and had the capabilities to cause "mass destruction."

Surman admitted to police that the larger device contained erythritol tetranitrate, an explosive material, according to an affidavit filed in the case.

At his business, authorities recovered other explosive devices, some of which had to be detonated on site by investigators. All of the material will be shipped to the FBI's lab in Quantico, Va. for further study.

The motivations for Surman's alleged actions remained unclear. Weintraub declined to speculate, but said investigators also recovered bizarre, handwritten notes in a three-ring binder at the suspect's home.

One of the pages contained swastikas and other symbols, while another appeared to be a mock press release about a bombing. A third page, "the piece de resistance," according to Weintraub, was a computer generated graphic of Surman and his girlfriend driving away from an explosion while laughing.

Also unclear was whether Surman alone was responsible for all of the late-night explosions in the county, which Weintraub noted were all reported in a five-mile radius of his home. Technicians at the Quantico lab will work to determine if the bombs seized Thursday match evidence from the previous incidents.

"This continues to be an active investigation, and we believe the person who was making these bombs has been apprehended," Weintraub said, urging local residents to exercise caution and contact local police if they see any strange devices.

The most recent report of an explosion came June 14, when a public works employee in Milford Township "traveled over an object that produced a sound similar to an explosion," according to a statement from state police. That incident took place on Brick Tavern Road, not far from Surman's home.

Residents have said the explosions usually occur at night, describing them as booming, rumbling blasts. Some have left behind craters in the earth.

After Weintraub's announcement, Surman was arraigned in front of District Judge Lisa Gaier.

First District Attorney Gregg Shore contended that Surman is a "danger to the community" and asked for his bail to reflect that. Gaier set his bail at  $75,000, and barred him from having contact with Smith, working at the chemical company and being around chemicals.

Surman faces a preliminary hearing in the case July 10. His defense attorney, Josh Buchanan, declined to comment after the arraignment.

The 30-year-old has only one prior contact with police on his criminal record, a noise violation arrest last summer.

But he's drawn the ire of officials in Milford Township since April 2017, when a fire at his business revealed that he was storing large quantities of highly flammable chemicals, including heptane and methanol, according to Jeffrey Vey, the township manager.

The township cited Surman for the chemicals, saying the type of business was not permitted in the area where his building was located. Surman appealed the violation, arguing that the building's previous tenant, a furniture manufacturer, stored much more hazardous chemicals in the building, according to court documents. He also asked for a special variance to be allowed to continue his work.

At a zoning hearing last July, the township's zoning board heard from neighbors, who "complained of noise and bothersome odors coming from the property," according to Vey. The board upheld its violation and denied Surman's request for a variance.

Surman appealed the ruling to the county court, where it remains active.