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Attorneys: Government, Victims, Weaponmaker Settle Civil Suit Over Explosion

November 1, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government and a decorated former Air Force colonel whose bid to build a better anti-tank cannon went awry have agreed to settle multi-million dollar suits by victims of a 1986 explosion, attorneys said Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael S.J. Chernau, who represented one of the victims, said agreements were reached within the last two weeks, avoiding the need for a trial.

Chernau said the explosion victims plan to seek a dismissal of the case against the U.S. Army and Robert Dilger, inventor of a 30mm cannon that accidentally discharged at an Arlington, Va., filling station, blowing up a gas pump and injuring four people.

Dilger, a weapons expert, was attempting to market the anti-tank gun to the Pentagon at the time of the accident.

Chernau refused to reveal the terms of the tentative settlement, reasoning the other parties may not want to disclose the amounts. He said his client, former gas station employee Theresa Thompson, asked for $2.4 million and the amount she’ll receive is ″not close to that.″

Two other victims sued the Army for $2 million.

Lawyers for Dilger and the Justice Department confirmed a tentative settlement had been reached and also refused to disclose how much the Xenia, Ohio, man and the federal government agreed to pay the victims.

″Until that case is dimissed by the court it is not a final deal. We can’t say anything on it,″ Justice Department spokesman Tom Stewart said.

In addition to the civil suit a separate criminal case also is near completion.

Dilger has pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge of discharging a firearm in a public place. His sentencing, scheduled for Friday, had been postponed because Arlington County General District Judge Paul Sheridan wanted to see an effort made toward compensating the injured.

Chernau said about 60 pieces of shrapnel were removed from Thompson’s legs after the explosion. Her legs remain scarred and she has lost some mobility, he said.

The other civil suit said Elda and Domenico Gargani of Arlington suffered extreme pain, mental anguish and shrapnel wounds after the eight-foot-long cannon fired a nine-inch shell into a gas pump, sending exploding metal into their car.

Dilger, who won three Silver Stars and four Distinguished Flying Crosses in 180 combat missions in Vietnam, retired from the Air Force in 1980 after establishing a reputation as a cost-conscious procurement officer.

In addition to trying to develop a better, cheaper anti-tank gun, Dilger developed a stereo electronics business and until a year ago was a part-time weapons analyst for a congressional office.

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