Judge to decide whether man tried to kill ex-girlfriend's boyfriend with natural gas

  • Frank E. Ryan

    Frank E. Ryan

 
 
Updated 7/29/2022 6:30 PM

A Waterman man didn't intend to kill anybody when he tampered with the gas line at the Elburn home of his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend in 2020.

Frank E. Ryan, 35, just wanted to scare the guy and keep the girlfriend from going to the house, defense attorney Paul Johnson told Kane County Judge David Kliment Friday during Ryan's trial on charges of attempted murder.

 

But Assistant State's Attorney Lori Anderson said Ryan spoke about wanting to scare them only after a detective suggested the concept to him while questioning Ryan.

She said buying the materials used, visiting the house several times, delivering a letter to the victim and inventing an alibi showed he planned and took "substantial action" -- a legal requirement for the charges -- intending to hurt someone.

"These are not the actions or behavior of someone trying to scare someone," Anderson said.

The ex-girlfriend, Kelsey Pranaitis Rittgarn, was not at the house on the 500 block of Downing Street at 2:30 a.m. Jan. 19, 2020. But the boyfriend whom she's since married, Richard Rittgarn, and his 27-year-old son Aaron were sleeping in their second-floor bedrooms.

Richard Rittgarn testified Wednesday that the smell of natural gas woke him up. He heard hissing.

He found a hole behind a credenza in his office. A plastic tube was sticking out, with gas coming through it. He blocked it with a pen. Outside, he saw the tube was connected to the gas line at the meter.

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Firefighters determined the level of natural gas in the air inside the house was 2% to 3%. At 5%, the gas would have been flammable. That could have caused an explosion that would have leveled the house and killed anybody inside, Assistant Fire Chief Michael Huneke, of the Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District, testified Friday. He said natural gas can asphyxiate people.

Police traced manufacturer measurement marks on the tube to a lot sold off a reel at the Ace Hardware store in Sugar Grove. Store video showed Ryan buying a 12-inch drill bit and duct tape with his customer-loyalty rewards card.

Elburn police Detective John Shepard testified that pieces of 2-by-4-inch lumber attached to the tube and meter had distinctive grooves that matched lumber found at Ryan's home, where police also found the drill bit.

Police said duct tape covered a video doorbell on the Elburn home. The doorbell wasn't working at the time.

Richard and Aaron Rittgarn were not injured.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Kelsey Pranaitis Rittgarn testified she dated Ryan for eight years and they broke up in November 2019. They were still in contact because they shared ownership of several dogs.

She said Ryan knew she was involved with Richard Rittgarn and Ryan had come to the house once to look for her. He also texted her on Jan. 10, 2020, that he was doing things for which he might go to jail, she said, and he asked her to take care of the dogs if he was arrested.

Police said Ryan asked his father to wear Ryan's Fitbit fitness tracker the night of Jan. 18-19 to show Ryan wasn't in Elburn.

Kliment will announce his verdict Tuesday.

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