The first of three defendants has been sentenced for his role in an illegal hash oil manufacturing operation that exploded in 2013, causing the death of one person and seriously injuring two others.
The feds said they wanted to send a message that legal cannabis in Washington State does not mean residents have a free hand to engage in dangerous activities to process cannabis, so they requested the maximum sentence of 10 years.
The explosion happened in an apartment building in Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. The apartment had been rented by two Microsoft software contractors, Daniel James Strycharske and Jesse D. Kaplan, for the purpose of allowing a third man, David Schultz, to extract the oil.
All three pleaded guilty to charges related to the hash oil operation and the explosion it caused.
Nancy (Nan) Campbell, former Bellevue mayor
U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes called the explosion “the worst possible scenario,” even when compared to a dozen similar cases in which defendants are accused of endangering others through their extraction efforts. Former Bellevue mayor, Nan Campbell, 87, was asleep in her own apartment when the explosion occurred. She suffered a fractured pelvis as she fell trying to escape. She later died from complications caused by injuries sustained during the escape. Two other residents of the three-story building jumped from their apartments and sustained broken bones in the fall. Schultz himself suffered severe burns.
The explosion occurred when the butane Schultz used to extract the oil combusted, destroying a large section of the ten-unit building (photo below).
Butane is a popular extraction solvent for rendering hash oil, but the tendency of vapors to sink and collect near ground level makes them likely to ignite in the presence of a heat source. Police reports show that an officer responded to a complaint just a few weeks prior to the explosion. Schultz denied using butane at the time, but was warned that it was dangerous to use it in an enclosed space.
Despite indirectly causing the death of Nan Campbell and injuring others in the apartment building, Schultz was later caught with hash oil extraction supplies—including butane—in a motel room in California. Nan Campbell’s daughter, Ann Campbell Spangler, said of Schultz’s second arrest,
“You have burns, you’re hurt, you’ve blown up an apartment and then you’re going to California and doing the same thing. It’s like he didn’t learn.”
The disparity between the 10-year sentence sought for Schultz and the 4-year sentences being pursued for his codefendants may come down to his apparent failure to learn from his mistakes. Schultz’s public defender, however, said that it was unfair to treat Kaplan and Strycharske with greater lenience, as they were the ones who financed the operation and supplied the cannabis from which Schultz was extracting the oil.
Schultz’s attorney presented that Schultz suffered from mental illness, was a victim of child abuse, and had been impoverished or homeless much of his life. For his part, Schultz said he was only trying to raise money so that he could reconnect with his sons.
U.S. District Judge James Robart sentenced Schultz to nine years in federal prison for his role in the explosion. Kaplan and Strycharske are expected to be sentenced next month.