BRATTLEBORO -- Not long after moving into his rented trailer in South Londonderry last spring, a man decided to try out a propane grill that had been left behind.
The igniter didn’t work, so he lit a piece of paper and tossed it in. What followed, court documents say, were "loud exploding sounds" that left the tenant "scared to death" while another bystander ran for cover.
On Thursday, 30-year-old Mathew Parant of Londonderry was ordered to serve nine to 10 days on a state Department of Corrections work crew for placing fireworks inside the grill months earlier. While Parant’s former landlord believed the explosives had been planted in retaliation, the defendant claims he had been trying to blow up the grill only "for his own entertainment."
"Mr. Parant pleaded guilty to this because he understands that what he did was reckless ... but it wasn’t intentional," said Benjamin Schultz, a public defender representing Parant in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division.
The Vermont State Police investigation was spurred by a May 6 call from the new tenant of Parant’s former trailer on Route 100. The man reported that "fireworks blew up in his face when he tried to light the grill," a police affidavit says.
The man said he ended up with "marks on his face" from the explosion and did not require hospital treatment. But he provided a sworn statement saying he was "scared to death thinking the house and cars would explode if the propane tank had exploded.
A woman who had been present told police that, for an instant, she was happy to see that the grill was working "because she was not going to have to buy a new grill." But then the explosions began, with the tenant yelling "get away!" and the woman "running to take cover behind her car," court documents say.
The tenant, who was "sweating and had black residue all over his face," quickly called his landlord.
It was the landlord who told State Police that he and Parant had "problems." He said Parant had not paid his rent and eventually was evicted; the landlord also claimed Parant had threatened him.
Parant recalled that reference differently, but he admitted that he and the landlord had arguments about the property’s condition. Parant also reported that the landlord had been "arrogant," court documents say.
In a June interview, an investigator asked Parant "if his intent was to scare (the landlord) or blow his face off, and he replied to the effect that it was something he was going to do but he ran out of propane," the police affidavit says. "Parant further indicated that it was something ‘I was going to play around with.’"
"Parant told me that he never thought that anyone would use it and that he hoped that nobody was seriously injured," a State Police trooper wrote. "Parant told me that, sometime over the winter, he was setting off firecrackers and decided to stuff them in the grill. Parant admitted to stuffing two packs of Black Cat firecrackers under the heat shield of the grill and that there may have been a couple dozen firecrackers in each pack. Parant told me that he hooked up a propane tank to the grill and got the ‘bright idea’ to blow the grill apart, but he couldn’t light it."
Parant added that "it was supposed to be meant for his own entertainment."
"I asked Parant if he would agree that a reasonable person would assume that it is not safe to leave firecrackers in a grill, and he stated, ‘yup,’ and ‘yeah,’ indicating that he agreed that what he had done was not safe," the trooper wrote.
Parant in October pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and fireworks possession. He initially was referred directly to the Reparative Board, a panel made up of community members -- and, sometimes, victims -- who meet with an offender and talk about the impacts of crime.
But in December, a Brattleboro Community Justice Center administrator wrote that Parant had failed to complete that program. So the case was referred back to court, where on Thursday, Schultz said the health problems of Parant’s newborn child had prevented his client from attending Reparative Board sessions.
Judge David Suntag said he understood that "the stresses of life can get out of control sometimes." But the judge noted that a simple phone call might have resolved the situation.
Suntag imposed the work-crew sentence, cautioning Parant that, "if you don’t show up there, they do put you in jail."
Left unresolved is the landlord’s demand for $100 in restitution for the damaged Kenmore grill. Parant was given 30 days to file a challenge to that request.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.