Michael Buhrman, the infamous former licensed senior nuclear reactor operator turned fugitive who is believed to have fled the country to evade capture by authorities, was convicted last month of aggravated vehicular hijacking and vehicular hijacking and sentenced to 40 years in prison. It took the DuPage County jury less than an hour to reach a guilty felony verdict.
“Nearly one year ago, Michael Buhrman pointed a loaded weapon at an innocent woman’s head and stole her car just for the thrill of it,” State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said after the verdict.
Late on the night of May 9th, 2012, Buhrman, then a supervisor at the Dresden nuclear power plant in Morris, Illinois, donned a very lifelike mask and approached his innocent victim as she sat in her parked car during a break in a Kohl’s parking lot in Woodridge, Illinois. He ambushed her and pointed a loaded semi-automatic .45-caliber handgun at the victim’s head, cocked back the hammer on the gun, and ordered the young woman out of the 2000 Pontiac Grand Am before taking off in the car. “I looked down at his hands and he had a gun,” Carrie Bradley said, describing the carjacking. “He told me to give him my keys and walk away.”
The crime was captured by a video camera at Kohls and was witnessed by at least one bystander who notified authorities and followed Buhrman from the scene of the crime until he was stopped and arrested by police a short distance from the scene. When arrested, the then-employee of Exelon was still armed and still wearing the mask. He would later tell investigators he had only been “thrill-seeking.”
Within a few days of being charged, the Navy veteran was freed on $20,000 cash bail despite the warnings from prosecutors that he was a flight risk. In July, Judge Kathryn Creswell place Buhrman on home confinement equipped with a GPS monitor after his former girlfriend notified authorities that Buhrman had been plotting to escape prosecution by running to Chile before the trial and had boasted of accumulating more than $100,000 in gold. He soon disappeared on September 28thof 2012, the GPS ankle monitor issued an alert that it had been tampered with but by the time police arrived Burhman was gone and they found the GPS device cut off, so his trial continued absentia. It would later be revealed that three days prior to his disappearance he withdrew $14,000 which had been deposited into his checking account from a foreign source.
During the trial, Melissa Gates, Buhrman’s former wife, testified that her ex-husband was controlling, abusive, and detailed how Buhrman used steroids as a part of his bodybuilding regimen. Gates said she now lives in fear thinking about what could happen if Buhrman comes back to get their 6-year-old son. “I don’t know what he would do with me,” she said.
Woodridge police Detective Jody Porras testified that Buhrman, had attempted to recruit at least one other reactor operator to join him in committing more ambitious criminal plans than stealing a car. Apparently, multiple times in the year and a half leading up to the carjacking, Buhrman had conversations with another Navy veteran plant operator about planning to commit bank robberies and armored car heists. Buhrman asked if he had ever seen “The Town” and mentioned that it would be cool to do something like that if he could put together a team. Prosecutors say that Buhrman has not been seen since his September disappearing act and another long-time friend of his has also dropped from sight around the same time.
Assistant State’s Attorney Demetri Demopoulos asked for a maximum sentence of 45 years, calling Buhrman “a dangerous and evil man who cares nothing for society and the laws the rest of us live by.” “He’s a coward,” Demopoulos added in court. “When he faces something unpleasant, he takes off.”
Prosecutor David Friedland repeatedly pointed to an empty chair which is generally reserved for defendants during the closing arguments. “There is your defendant, ladies and gentleman, right there,” Friedland told jurors. “He knows what he did, and he’s not willing to be here to take responsibility for his actions.”
Judge Kathryn Creswell said she has “absolutely no doubt” Buhrman fled to avoid prosecution. “Once the defendant is caught,” Creswell said, “a lengthy sentence is required to protect the public.”
These serious events cast a dark shadow of doubt on process Exelon uses to screen persons of high responsibility which may have an adverse effect on the health and safety of the public. Each reactor operator is given a battery of psychological tests and screened by a psychologist prior to enrollment in supervisory programs. There are also multiple continuing behavior programs, on-going screenings, and tests which maybe should have caught these aberrant behaviors prior to the crimes actually taking place. The worry escalates when one considers that it is purported that Buhrman also plotted crimes with a co-worker, while working inside a nuclear power plant, instead of watching reactor. As told by one former senior licensed reactor operator in response to this story, there are so many moving pieces during normal operations of a nuclear power reactor. The operators have to keep track of multiple overlapping tasks and processes which require constant vigil to ensure that no vital safety components are compromised. These responsibilities weigh heavy during normal operations and it is difficult to understand how an appreciable lack of performance could not be noted when supervising operators are so caught up in other affairs.
Source: Chicago Tribune
Source: The Daily Herald
Source: Sun Times