NEW YORK -- A man who joined the Marines two days after the Sept. 11 attacks was sentenced Wednesday to a decade in prison after blaming post-traumatic stress disorder for car bombing his neighbor after a parking dispute.
Despite a fireball and an explosion powerful enough to buckle the car's doors, the victim miraculously escaped injury when the bomb was detonated as he drove down a Bronx street in 2016.
U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer said he would have sentenced Richard Laugel to 20 years in prison if not for his military heroism, which included two stints in Iraq.
"I want to thank you for your service to your country," Engelmayer said. "You have been a hero, and you have it in yourself to be that way again."
But the judge also said PTSD does not excuse Laugel's crime and he was "incredibly fortunate no one was hurt" when he tried to settle an ongoing feud with a neighbor who had quarreled with him over a parking spot.
"It's a rare person who tries to blow up their adversary's car with a pipe bomb," Engelmayer said.
Prosecutors said the March 2, 2016, attack came after Laugel put a pipe bomb in the rear tire well of his Bronx neighbor's car. They said he followed the car in his own vehicle a few blocks before activating the bomb remotely.
The loud explosion created a fireball that blew out the car's air bags and buckled the car doors, though it failed to ignite the gas tank. An FBI analysis showed the bomb was loaded with nails.
Arrested on state arson and attempted murder charges in March 2016, Laugel remained incarcerated until February 2018. A May 2018 narcotics raid on his residence revealed he was manufacturing firearms and silencers in his garage, prosecutors said.
In court papers, attorney Troy A. Smith said his client suffered from classic post-traumatic stress.
He described one instance in which Laugel heard fireworks outside his then-California residence and ran outside in his underwear with his licensed firearm, "completely under the assumption he was in Iraq and defending himself and his fellow marines from harm."
"He was also experiencing nightmares containing images of combat and would wake up screaming and drenched in sweat," Smith wrote.
Engelmayer said it was "blatantly obvious" Laugel suffers from PTSD.
He read a letter in which Laugel said: "I constantly suffered from survivor's guilt."
The judge also cited a letter from Laugel's former platoon commander, retired Sgt. Maj. M. Dallas Miller, saying Laugel provided security during the initial invasion of Iraq for former Secretary of Defense James Mattis who led a Marine division at the time.
Miller said Laugel helped train, plan and execute high-risk missions in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2005.
He said it is easy for people to write someone off with PTSD.
"What we should be doing is wrapping our arms around him, help him address his issues that led him to make a poor decision, and help him get back on track," Miller said.