When Howard Wease III was arrested in May, the skin was falling off his burned lower arms and hands.
On Wednesday, the scars were still evident as the 25-year-old California man stood before Ravalli County District Judge Jeffrey Langton for sentencing on felony counts of criminal production of dangerous drugs and criminal possession of dangerous drugs.
Wease was arrested in May after something went terribly wrong in his attempt to use butane to brew a batch of hash oil at a Hamilton home. The resulting explosion left a 17-year-old Hamilton man with burns to his hands, feet, head, neck, shoulders and chest.
Wease told Langton that he was thankful that no one died.
Court records said Wease and the juvenile were making hash oil from marijuana using a process that involved butane. The butane apparently combusted, blew out a window and started a fire.
Wease and his girlfriend, Mariah Marie Smith, dropped off the juvenile at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and left the scene.
When officers found Wease later that day, the burned skin on his lower arms and hands was flaking off his body.
Investigators found 23 cans of butane at the home and five pounds of marijuana.
On the evening of the explosion, Langton said Wease had used LSD.
Langton said Wease had a lengthy criminal history, most of which was drug related. There were currently two warrants out for his arrest in Colorado and Virginia.
Despite his long history with the law, Langton said it appeared that Wease never had the opportunity to enter a chemical dependency treatment program.
That was a requirement of the 12-year commitment with the Montana Department of Corrections, with seven years suspended, that Langton ordered Wednesday.
With his pregnant girlfriend sitting just a few feet away, Wease said the fact he was about to become a father was the motivation he needed to clean up his life.
“I’m about to become a father soon,” Wease said. “That’s my motivation to get through treatment. I’ll do whatever I need to become a good father. I’m just thankful for this opportunity to go to rehab. I apologize for the consequences of my actions.”
Smith has already been sentenced in the case.
Ravalli County Deputy Attorney Thorin Geist agreed that Wease needed an opportunity at setting his life right.
“I do think he needs drug treatment,” Geist told the judge. “Quite frankly, I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
The consequences will be severe if he ends up back in court, Geist said.
Wease’s attorney, Ron Piper, said he believed his client had learned quite a lot from this incident.
“This could have turned out a whole lot worse for everyone involved,” Piper said. “I think this has been a real, real wake-up call for him. His friend and co-defendant suffered severe burns. If that doesn’t get the point across, I don’t know what will.”