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Lawyer: Man to plead guilty to setting radar facility fire

CHICAGO (AP) — A suburban Chicago contractor accused of setting fire to a radar facility and disrupting air traffic throughout the U.S. will plead guilty, his attorney said Thursday after the man appeared in court for arraignment.

A plea agreement with prosecutors is being negotiated, with the goal being having Howard do his time in a federal prison offering mental health treatment, defense attorney Ronald Safer said. He said Howard intends to plead guilty on June 4.

Howard, 37, of Naperville has been held without bail in the Kankakee County Jail since his arrest.

A number of his relatives attended Thursday’s hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason. The bearded Howard mouthed, “Hi, Mom,” as he was being led from the courtroom afterward.

Howard was a contract employee at the Aurora regional control center. Authorities say he cut cables and set fire to a basement telecommunications room. He is charged with willfully setting fire to, damaging, destroying or disabling an air navigation facility and using fire to commit a federal felony.

The fire caused more than 2,000 canceled flights and brought Chicago’s two international airports to a standstill. It took more than two weeks to fully repair the facility.

That “inconvenienced passengers, reportedly cost the airlines over $350 million and raised questions about the resiliency of our national airspace system and its ability to withstand a similar systematic attack in the future,” according to a Federal Aviation Administration report.

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