Formal charges filed against suspect in Aurora FAA facility arson

(CHICAGO) Federal prosecutors formally filed charges Friday against Brian Howard, the Naperville man accused of setting fire to an FAA radar facility in Aurora last year, leading to a grounding of all planes at O’Hare and Midway.

Howard, 37, is charged with one count of willfully setting fire to, damaging, destroying or disabling an air navigation facility; and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Howard was initially charged in a criminal complaint affidavit filed after his arrest for starting the Sept. 26, 2014 fire, according to federal prosecutors.

Formal charges were filed Friday after Howard agreed to be charged by information brought forward by prosecutors rather than by grand jury indictment, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Howard entered the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora using his FAA-issued credentials about 5 a.m. on Sept. 26, prosecutors said. About 30 minutes later, he posted a message to Facebook that said, “Take a hard look in the mirror, I have. And this is why I am about to take out [the Control Center] and my life.”

Howard slashed several telecommunications cables with a knife and set them on fire before attempting to slash his own throat, authorities said after his arrest.

During initial court proceedings, his attorney said the Navy veteran had been told he was being transferred to Hawaii and was not happy about it. He had worked for Harris Corp. for eight years, helping modernize communications equipment at FAA facilities. He was fired shortly after his arrest.

The charge of damaging an air navigation facility carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, prosecutors said. The charge of using fire carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years.

Although no date has been set, Howard’s next court appearance will be for arraignment before U.S> District Judge Gary Feinerman.