URBANA – A 73-year-old Prophetstown man who claimed to be a member of an anti-abortion “rescue group” has been charged in federal court after investigators said he drove a car into a future Danville reproductive health clinic and tried to burn it down.
Philip J. Buyno was charged in U.S. Central District Court with attempted arson and faces five to 20 years in prison.
Buyno was to appear in court on Tuesday, where among other things, the judge was to determine if he would be held pending further proceedings. He did not appear because of an unspecified “medical event.”
The hearing has yet to be rescheduled.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Buyno was arrested Saturday after getting trapped inside his car, which he backed into the entrance to the building about 4:30 a.m., triggering an alarm.
The former eye clinic is being remodeled to open this year as a reproductive health clinic; it was equipped with video surveillance cameras that captured Buyno’s Volkswagen Passat backing into it several times at high speed, according to the affidavit.
Buyno, who waived his right to an attorney, told Danville police officers and an FBI agent that he heard in early May the clinic would be used for abortions, so he loaded his car with old tires, wood and gasoline and reinforced the trunk with wooden beams so he could use the car to batter his way into the building. He then intended to burn the building, along with his car, once he got inside, according to the affidavit.
After ramming the building, he threw a can of gas out of the car, and intended to light it, but it landed upright and as he was trapped inside, could not complete the act, according to the affidavit.
Buyno told officers he was a member of “a rescue group,” the purpose of which was to prevent abortion clinics from being established, according to the affidavit.
Buyno was active in the anti-abortion movement in the 1980s and ‘90s and had been arrested many times, then became active again after his retirement four years ago, the affidavit quoted Buyno as saying. Buyno was arrested in 2019 for trespassing at a Peoria clinic, according to the affidavit.
Buyno also said that “if I could sneak in with a gas can and a match, I’d go there again,” and that if he is released from jail, he’ll go back and finish the job, according to the affidavit.
Buyno, who has no criminal history in Lee or Whiteside counties, was facing Vermilion County criminal charges for the damage to the clinic, but those charges were dismissed, according to online court records.
Danville is near the Illinois-Indiana border and about 200 miles from Prophetstown.
Residents from both states are expected to use the clinic, which, according to The Associated Press, has generated controversy.
Earlier this month, the Danville City Council voted to ban the mailing or shipping of abortion pills even as state Democratic officials have warned that step violates Illinois law protecting abortion as a fundamental right.
Danville officials have said the building at 600 N. Logan Ave. is being renovated as an abortion clinic after Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature voted last summer to ban abortion. A legal challenge pending before the Indiana Supreme Court has kept the state’s ban on hold since September.
In a posting on its Facebook page, the Danville Police Department sought to clarify that the as-yet-unnamed future clinic is not affiliated with a current women’s clinic, or any other clinics, in the city.
“The information we have as of now is the site was purchased by the Indianapolis-based McGhee Investment Group,” according to the post.
“That group is associated with the Indianapolis Clinic for Women and that clinic does provide abortion services. Until we have a definitive name associated with this site we will now be referring to this site as the proposed women’s clinic.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene L. Miller is prosecuting; there was no indication in court records as of Wednesday that Buyno has hired or been appointed an attorney.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.