Federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives indicate in documents that a homemade cannon caused the death recently of a Billings man.
Billy J. Ullom, 49, died Dec. 1 after suffering severe blood loss from shrapnel injuries at a residence east of Laurel, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Jones said earlier.
ATF and county authorities executed a federal search warrant on Dec. 5 at the residence on Seitz Ronan Road where the incident occurred. The search warrant and related documents were unsealed this week in U.S. District Court.
The search warrant records indicate that Ullom was injured shortly after the fuse of a homemade cannon was lighted. He died afterward at a hospital.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr declined to comment on possible charges in the case.
The investigation began after sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call at the residence and found Ullom lying on the ground in a field and bleeding profusely from the groin area, Sheriff’s Detective Timothy Siegle said in court records. Siegle also is a member of the ATF task force.
A witness told deputies that a group at the property was firing rocks from a homemade cannon. When the loaded cannon was ignited, the barrel exploded and some of the shrapnel from the barrel hit Ullom, Siegle said.
In an interview with an ATF agent, the owner of the cannon said he was a pipefitter and had built the cannon about seven years ago. He had fired the cannon about 150 times previously without a problem, the records said.
The pipefitter told the agent he had loaded the cannon with explosive powder and multiple rocks, aimed it toward a target and inserted and lit the fuse. After hearing the powder explode, the pipefitter looked over and saw Ullom fall to the ground.
The cannon was made from a metal pipe that was about 21 inches long with a 3-inch bore diameter.
Siegle said such a device that has a bore diameter greater than a half-inch is considered under federal regulations to be a destructive device and is not exempt from registration in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. A records search showed no registration of the cannon by the owner, he said.
Items seized during the search included an energy bill, a homemade silencer, rifle powder, an empty container of muzzle loading powder, a shotgun and a shotgun shell, court records said.