MEDFORD, Ore. – On Thursday, November 16, 2017, United States District Judge Michael J. McShane sentenced Brian Keith Sunkenberg, 53, to 45 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to endangering human life by manufacturing marijuana in the form of hash oil. Judge McShane ordered Sunkenberg to pay $27,671 in restitution.
According to court documents, Sunkenberg conspired with others to manufacture hash oil at a trailer park in Grants Pass, Oregon. On February 14, 2016, Sunkenberg went to a convenience store and purchased multiple large cans of butane, a highly flammable liquid used to manufacture hash oil. Later that day, while two children and another adult were present inside Sunkenberg’s trailer, the butane ignited, causing a massive explosion and fire. The fire destroyed the trailer, damaged a neighbor’s trailer, and resulted in second and third degree burns to the two children and Sunkenberg. In the trailer, investigators found twenty six 300 ml canisters of butane and an additional ten empty canisters that had apparently exploded in the fire.
After the incident, Sunkenberg and two friends went to the hospital where one of the minors was undergoing treatment for their injuries. Sunkenberg confronted the parents visiting their child and threatened “consequences” if the minor talked to investigators.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Keith Weis said, “Justice has been served to this reckless individual whose selfish criminal actions put our citizens lives in jeopardy, to include almost killing innocent children.”
“This activity is not just illegal, it poses a significant danger to the community and in this case to the children and another adult nearby,” said US Attorney Billy J Williams. “The purchase of large quantities of canned butane should raise the alarm about the illicit manufacturing of butane hash oil. Despite recent Oregon laws increasing the penalties for persons causing explosions related to these illegal manufacturing activities, illegal hash oil production is on the rise with explosions this year resulting in the deaths of three people and severe injuries to others.”
This case was investigated by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William “Bud” Fitzgerald.