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Teen sentenced for setting off explosion at bonfire injuring more than a dozen

Posted at 7:18 PM, Apr 11, 2024

SHAWANO (NBC 26) — A judge sentenced Sam Armstrong, one of the teens prosecutors say set off an explosion at a bonfire in October 2022, on Thursday. A burn victim and several victim family members spoke in court.

  • See the emotional statements made by a burn victim and his father at Sam Armstrong's sentencing hearing on Thursday
  • Armstrong is sentenced to one year in jail and five years probation
  • Four parents and one burn victim spoke in court and all said they forgive Armstrong for what happened at the bonfire where he and another teen threw a drum of gasoline on the flames

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

A Pulaski teen has now been sentenced for his role in a bonfire explosion that injured more than a dozen people. I'm Pari Apostolakos at the Shawano County Courthouse with the court's decision and what victims' families had to say.

A judge sentenced 18-year-old Sam Armstrong to one year in jail with six months conditional confinement. The judge also gave him five years of probation. Prosecutors say Armstrong and another teen threw a drum of fuel onto a bonfire in October 2022 during a party.

Four parents and one victim spoke at the sentencing Thursday afternoon. They described the horrors caused by the explosion, including injuries to Benjamin Van Asten.

His mother Julie told the court more than 55% of his body was burned.

"I forgive him for what he has done," Benjamin said "I have no hate towards him. And I hope that he can learn from his lessons and that I don't feel that he should have to be punished for his whole prime of his life."

His father also spoke, addressing Sam directly.

"You need to know, as hard as it is, I forgive you for what you did," Greg Van Asten said. "I know you didn't intend to hurt all of these kids. Who could? Who could?"

When given the chance to address the court, Armstrong was overcome with emotion and couldn't talk. His attorney said the teen wanted to reach out to the victims and apologize but was not allowed to by law until Thursday's hearing.

A judge agreed Armstrong could report to prison on May 30 to allow him to attend graduation and receive his high school diploma. In Shawano County Pari Apostolakos NBC 26.