Soldier who took military vehicle on Richmond joyride recently flew to Iraq, researched bombs

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia National Guardsman accused of stealing an armored military vehicle from Fort Pickett and driving 60 miles to Richmond last year recently took another trip that he should not have made, according to investigators.

Court records obtained by CBS 6 showed that Joshua Yabut was able to fly from Norfolk to Iraq two months ago. The trip violated the conditions of his bond following his June 2018 joyride.

An employee of the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office called the Virginia Fusion Center on January 31, to report a suspicious situation involving Yabut, according to a report in his case file. Yabut, who has been wearing an electronic ankle device, is being monitored by the Richmond Circuit Court Mental Health Docket.

On or about January 22, investigators said Yabut used his military ID to board a plane at Naval Station Norfolk and fly to the naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida.

Court documents showed Yabut later took a commercial flight to Charlotte, before flying to Toronto, and then on to Keflavik, Iceland.

From there, Yabut flew to Berlin, and then to Istanbul, before ultimately ending up in Iraq on January 26.

He flew back to Norfolk two days later, according to investigators.

Crime Insider sources tell CBS 6 that Yabut's ankle monitor was attached when he boarded the flight to Jacksonville, but at some point during the trip it was taken off.

Virginia National Guard Soldier Joshua Philip Yabut

“It’s both amazing and concerning,” said Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn, who lives near Fort Pickett. “Not only did he fly, but he took a military flight…. you would think in the military alone you should be on a no-fly list.”

Coleburn, who is also the editor of the Courier-Record newspaper, first learned about Yabut’s trip to Iraq last month.

That was around the time that Nottoway County Commonwealth’s Attorney Terry Royall filed a motion to revoke Yabut’s bond and put him back behind bars.

In that motion, Royall referenced the unauthorized trip, and also said that Yabut’s “recent online activity reveals research into bomb making.”

In addition to pictures posted on Twitter that showed Yabut at an airport in Iraq, court documents stated that investigators had found photos that “indicated Yabut had been looking into prices of having Denatonium Benzoate shipped from China.”

Denatonium Benzoate is a bitter substance commonly found in household cleaners and automotive products.

One court document also stated that Yabut’s Twitter page featured postings and information related to Open Source Jihad and Al Qaeda, specifically, magazine articles that discuss how to make pressure cooker bombs and house to construct “train derailment devices.”

"I don't think there's any question to that, he presents a level of threat," said Col. Matt Bristol, a retired Staff Judge Advocate for the United States Air Force.

“It's hard to say if he's detached from reality."

Bristol, who is unconnected to the investigation, also expressed concern about Yabut being able to leave the state, and the country.

“I’m surprised that he was able to board a military aircraft at Norfolk Naval Air Station, not withstanding he was wearing an ankle bracelet," Bristol said.

When reached for comment, a spokesman for the United States Air Mobility Command said that they were aware that Yabut had flown out of the Norfolk NAS terminal, but said that no investigation was necessary, because military personnel and their dependents are allowed to fly on Department of Defense planes that have available space.

CBS 6 also asked whether Yabut's ankle monitor should have been detected by security before he boarded the flight.

"We don't discuss or disclose security procedures for the protection of our missions and safety of all passengers," said Capt. Kenneth Hicks, USAF, the deputy chief of media operations.

Yabut's military ID card was valid at the time of his flight. That is no longer the case.

"First Lt. Yabut maintained his military identification card in order to access his benefits to include potential medical care," said A.A. "Cotton" Puryear, the state public affairs office for the Virginia National Guard. "His chain of command has since retrieved his military ID card based on his recently being charged with violating the conditions of his bond."

Puryear also said that the military won't take disciplinary action against Yabut until the case has been adjudicated in the state court system.

"Once those civilian actions are complete, the VNG will determine the appropriate course of action in regard to his military status," said Puryear.

Yabut made national headlines in June, when investigators said he stole an armored personnel carrier from Fort Pickett and drove it more than 60 miles to Richmond. The chase came to an end on Broad Street near City Hall. Yabut was taken into custody after climbing out of the vehicle.

He was later taken to Central State Hospital, where he was held for more than two months so that his mental condition could be evaluated. He was released in September.

Yabut is currently locked up in Richmond, where he’s charged with felony eluding police.

He’s set to go on trial in Nottoway in May for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.