In the predawn hours of June 13, a state trooper on patrol in upper Bucks County heard an ear-splitting explosion rock the pastoral landscape.
Seconds later, the trooper saw a black Ford Explorer carrying David Surman Jr. and his girlfriend race away from the source of the blast, according to a search warrant application filed in County Court. And when the trooper pulled the vehicle over in Milford Township, he noted Surman was nervous and sweating despite the chill in the air. Surman blamed his jitters on the explosion, which he admitted he had heard and found to be "scary," the warrant states.
Two weeks later, Surman was arrested after a cadre of local, state and federal investigators found homemade explosives during raids on his home in Quakertown and the chemical company he owns nearby. One of the devices was 18 inches long and capable of "mass destruction," District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said at the time.
Now, the search warrants filed in his case have been unsealed ahead of Surman's preliminary hearing on Oct. 15, revealing how scientific analysis and close surveillance led authorities literally to his doorstep.
Surman, 30, has been charged with possessing a weapon of mass destruction, reckless endangerment, and related offenses. He was released June 29 after posting 10 percent of his $750,000 bail, the conditions of which include staying away from his company and having no access to chemicals.
William Joshua Buchanan, Surman's attorney, did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.
His arrest came at the height of public speculation about the mysterious explosions in a series of rural townships in upper Bucks, a full hour north of Philadelphia. So far, prosecutors haven't definitively said that Surman was responsible for all the blasts, of which more than 20 were reported between April and June.
But reports of those explosions, which some residents described as producing tremors, have stopped since his arrest. Weintraub noted in June that most of the sites of those explosions were within five miles of Surman's home.
Soil samples taken from the scene of one of those blasts, on Rosedale Road in Milford Township, revealed the presence of potassium, chloride, and perchlorate, a combination that could have been consistent with an explosive, according to the search warrant application.
Further, evidence gathered at the various explosion sites located indicated that on at least two occasions, the devices used to cause the explosion were "being deployed from the right (passenger) side of a vehicle," the warrant states.
When the trooper encountered Surman early June 13, he saw that Surman was in the passenger seat of the SUV, registered to and being driven by his girlfriend, Tina Smith. The couple said they were coming home from work at the time in Spinnerstown. Smith, has not faced criminal charges in this case.
Authorities began surveillance on Surman and Smith shortly afterward, according to the search warrant. They discovered almost immediately that he owns Consolidated Chemical & Solvents, a small-scale company that sells chemicals through eBay and other websites.
As the investigation into Surman continued, detectives often spotted him traveling from his home in Quakertown to the chemical company in Spinnerstown during overnight hours, the warrant states. Investigators also discovered footage of a car "similar in size, with similar characteristics" to Smith's SUV, being driven from the scene of a reported explosion on Steinsburg Road in Milford Township on June 7.
A special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives analyzed evidence from the various explosion sites and told local investigators that the soil samples contained "oxidizers," chemicals used in the manufacturing of explosives. Detectives noted that Consolidated Chemical & Solvents sells several oxidizers, as well as other chemicals commonly used as fuels for homemade explosives.
One of the clients that Surman had sold chemicals to over the years is currently under investigation by the FBI in Houston, according to the warrant. An FBI chemist told local investigators that one of those chemicals, nitrocellulose, is a "high explosive."
When the warrants were served on Surman's home early June 28, investigators discovered four explosives, a gun, and methamphetamine, police have said.
Surman, when shown pictures of the 18-inch explosive, admitted to police that it contained ETN, a powerful explosive material, according to paperwork filed in his case. He said the other explosives found in his home contained "flash powder."
The motivation behind Surman's alleged actions remains unclear. Investigators said they recovered a notebook in which he was "documenting his use of explosive materials," but have declined to speculate further.
In announcing his arrest, Weintraub displayed images taken from another binder in Surman's home.