Ohio man admits to bomb threat at Kennewick Courthouse

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldApril 11, 2013 

CLEVELAND, OHIO -- The Ohio man who phoned in a bomb threat to the Kennewick courthouse in November has admitted to making more than 100 similar calls to government buildings in five states.

Lonny Lee Bristow, 39, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

He waived a presentence report, which is standard in federal cases, and was ordered to serve four years and three months in prison.

Bristow was charged in March with one federal count of making a bomb threat by phone, knowing that it was false.

He was arrested March 20 in his hometown of Mansfield, and has been locked up without bond since his initial court appearance the following day.

Authorities said Bristow used prepaid calling cards to phone in bomb threats from mid-November through December to courthouses and other public buildings in Washington, Oregon, Nebraska, Mississippi and Tennessee.

His charge was for a Tennessee threat.

Benton County sheriff's Lt. Chuck Jones confirmed Thursday that Bristow was responsible for the Nov. 15 evacuation of the Benton County Justice Center.

"I think (Bristow's case) kind of sends a message that it's not so easy to get away with it," Jones told the Herald. "This particular case, it was such a big deal and it affected so many people that the department's efforts were put into it."

The call came in at 3:15 p.m. and was directed to a Benton County District Court clerk.

The man on the other end of the line said, "You better start getting people out of there because there's some bombs in there that are set to go in about 20 minutes."

The clerk made notes about the phone call, including any identifying information on the man, then alerted Administrator Jacki Lahtinen, who immediately took it to authorities.

Within 10 minutes, a recorded message was played over loudspeakers, alerting all employees and citizens to evacuate the building.

More than 100 people streamed out all exits of the justice center and the adjacent sheriff's office and waited in nearby parking lots until it became clear the building would remain closed for the rest of the business day.

Inmates in the jail were locked down in their cells during the investigation.

A Hanford Patrol officer and his bomb-detecting dog spent about an hour inside the building but failed to turn up any explosive devices.

Benton County was one of at least eight courthouses across the state to get bomb threats that afternoon. Calls reportedly also were received in Adams, Chelan, Thurston, Douglas, Clark, Columbia and Pacific counties.

Jones at the time said such phone calls usually are hoaxes, but authorities have to treat them like they're real so nobody gets hurt.

"We did some tracking, pulled all the phone records that we could from our end, and it became obvious that it was an out-of-state type thing," Jones said Thursday.

The sheriff's detective division started working with the FBI, who took over the investigation, he said.

According to a news release issued after Bristow's arrest, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in Knoxville discovered that prepaid calling cards used Nov. 27 to make bomb threat calls in Tennessee were purchased at a Walmart Supercenter in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

Cleveland FBI agents then joined the investigation and found that Bristow had bought a prepaid calling card on that date in the same Walmart. Upper Sandusky is about 40 miles from Mansfield.

Agents later learned that Bristow purchased several cards and those cards were traced to the false bomb threats, the release said.

Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony said Bristow's actions "induced panic in hundreds of people across several states who were simply trying to do their work."

A search of Bristow's home in March turned up computers, digital storage devices, other electronic equipment, documents, bank cards, weapons and ammunition. It all was seized as evidence in the federal case.

The Mansfield News Journal previously reported that Bristow -- who's been labeled a "vexatious litigator" -- filed since 1993 at least 137 lawsuits, targeting law enforcement personnel, judges, media outlets and others.

The lawsuits usually were tossed out of court, the newspaper reported.

w The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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