BIRMINGHAM -- A federal judge today sentenced a Birmingham man to 10 years in prison for possessing a pipe bomb crafted from a vehicle airbag canister, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Glenn Anderson.
A jury in March convicted JAMES DAVID KIRCUS, 55, on one count of knowingly possessing an unregistered destructive device. U.S. District Judge David Proctor sentenced Kircus on that charge. Kircus has remained in custody since the conviction.
"Improvised explosive devices can maim and kill. They are illegal," Vance said. "Mr. Kircus was working at an auto salvage business in Birmingham when he took a vehicle airbag, broke it down and reconfigured it into a dangerous weapon containing a high-powered explosive. This was a serious crime met today with serious punishment," she said.
“ATF’s Frontline model of reducing violent crime, along with the collaborative efforts of our local partners, led to the success of this investigation,” Anderson said.
Airbag cylinders contain sodium azide, a chemical that when ignited in a crash, quickly creates a gas to inflate the bag. According to evidence at trial, Kircus took the sodium azide tablets out of the airbag cylinders and crushed them to enhance their explosive power, then placed the crushed material back into the cylinders.
Employees at the salvage company called police after discovering what they thought were bombs in Kircus' toolbox. One airbag cylinder had been fully transformed into a bomb, another was in process and other unmodified cylinders were found, according to testimony.
At the time of the incident in August 2013, Kircus was living at Keeton Corrections, a half-way house in Birmingham for federal prisoners. Kircus was nearing the end of a seven-year and three-month sentence for his guilty plea related to making pipe bombs and possession of firearms by a convicted felon, according to trial evidence.
ATF investigated the case, which Special Assistant U.S. Attorney E. Wilson Hunter prosecuted.