Virginia Soldier May Have Had Bigger Plans For Drug-Fueled Rampage In Stolen Armored Vehicle

The Virginia State Police and Virginia Army National Guard have now provided significant new details regarding a bizarre incident in which a Guardsman stole an M577 armored command vehicle and led authorities on an approximately 60-mile long chase. Equally odd social media postings suggest that the suspect, 29-year old Lieutenant Joshua Philip Yabut, may have intended, at least at one point, for his actions to be more than just a joyride.

Yahut left Fort Pickett, a Virginia Army National Guard facility, in the M577 at 7:50 PM EST on June 5, 2018. Nearly two hours later, he came to a stop at an intersection in Richmond, the state’s capital, which is situated to the northeast of the base. Virginia State Police arrested him for driving under the influence of drugs, though they did not specify what substances he had taken, and subsequently charged him with eluding police and unauthorized use of a vehicle, both felonies.

“We are extremely grateful that there were no injuries as a result of this incident, and we appreciate the great work of the Virginia State Police, Richmond Police Department, and other law enforcement and first responders who safely brought this situation to a close,” U.S. Army Major General Timothy Williams, the Virginia State Adjutant General, said in a statement. “We have initiated our own investigation, and we will determine appropriate actions once the investigation is complete.”

Yahut is presently the commander of the Headquarters Company of the 276th Engineer Battalion, a Virginia Army National Guard Unit. He has been in the U.S. military for more than a decade and deployed with the Illinois National Guard to Afghanistan between 2008 and 2009.

The M577 had no weapons on board at the time of the incident. Yabut reportedly had an unidentified standard issue personal weapon with him at the time, but had no ammunition. Still, the Virginia State Police determined it had no way to stop the vehicle and elected to escort it instead to keep bystanders safe.

But according to a separate report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Yabut had posted pictures on social media earlier in the day that indicated he might have had plans for a larger rampage. One post included an online map of Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Capitol Building marked, as well as a screenshot of the Wikipedia page on the M113 armored personnel. Another appears to show him in the M577, which is a command and control derivative of the M113.

On Twitter, the subsequent posts were a mix of seemingly innocuous remarks and odd, confusing statements. Right before left Fort Pickett, Yahut posted a picture of himself next to an M577 and a video that appears to show him driving it, but it is not clear if these were images of the incident in progress.

We have no way of knowing yet whether he ended his ride early for some reason, if he no longer had any fixed plans or actually had any to begin with, or if he just ran out of fuel. A standard M113 armored personnel carrier has a range of approximately 300 miles with a full tank of gas.

In addition to his military service, Yahut had recently attempted and failed to file the necessary forms to run for Senate as an independent against incumbent Tim Kaine and had contributed to cybersecurity research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Richmond Times-Dispatch said NASA could not immediately confirm the Lieutenant’s claim that he had worked for them in this capacity directly between 2014 and 2017.

He was also involved in the development of a cryptocurrency called ZenCash, before leaving the project and claiming he had discovered a way to hack its underlying blockchain. One of his more cryptic Tweets said “permission to execute the 0day sir,” with a “zero-day” being a common term for a known cybersecurity vulnerability. On June 4, 2018, ZenCash did suffer a cyberattack, but there is no evidence so far linking Yahut to that event.

More details about the incident and Yahut’s motivations will assuredly come out as his case proceeds through the courts. At the time of writing, the Army officer was in the Richmond Jail.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.