Myers ‘dreadfully sorry’ for St. Felix arson

In this May 2017, file photo, flames curl out from under the balcony of a two-storey duplex at 316 St. Felix Street in Cornwall, Ont. The man responsible for the fire says he's 'dreadfully sorry' for what he did after pleading guilty to arson-related charges. He has been sentenced to nearly two years of house arrest. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – The Cornwall man, responsible for a fast-moving St. Felix Street fire a year ago that caused at least $500,000 damage, is “truly sickened and sorry” for what he did.

A Cornwall court recently heard sentencing submissions for 54-year-old Robert Myers, who pleaded guilty to several arson-related charges.

The fire in the front yard of 316 St. Felix Street in May 2017 — started by an improvised barbecue with gasoline — quickly enveloped a pickup truck and two neighbouring homes, displacing three families.

Myers’ lawyer, Myron Breslow, said the case is “not the usual arson case” as the fire was not for profit, revenge or an ulterior motive, but rather arson by negligence. He’s asking for a lengthy conditional sentence of 18 to 20 months – a combination of house arrest and a curfew.

Breslow also talked about his clients mental health issues. Myers is on medication, he’s bi-polar and is being treated by a psychiatrist. Court heard Myers has been with his common-law wife for 13 years and is the beneficiary of her Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). As for paying restitution, Breslow asked for no order as Myers was “basically unemployable” and only has a part-time job delivering newsprint fliers. He said the restitution would be “overkill.”

Crown attorney Matthew Collins called for a sentence of two years less a day, which would include 90 days in jail. “There needs to be the reflection upon him and society needs to be reminded that where you do things as stupid and negligent as this (there are consequences). You need to appreciate the potential for extreme damage and extreme loss of life and we are just lucky that nobody was actually hurt,” Collins said.

Collins repeated the words “stupid” and “stupidity” a number of times in his submission and called the act “gross negligence.”

The Crown attorney said Myers needs “to feel the slam of iron bars” but not for a “crushing period” of time, noting that Myers has a number of mental health issues. The Crown is also asking for restitution.

Addressing the court, Myers said he went to church on the morning and was “way off” before coming home and lighting a fire with gasoline inside a recycling bin on his front lawn.

“I actually thought I was lighting a hibachi ’cause I felt like having hot dogs. Sadly, I don’t really care for hot dogs so I don’t know what initiated it,” Myers said. He can’t remember anything after that.

He said he had no idea how large the fire had become until he was “slapped in the head” by someone. “But when I soon realized after the fact, it scared the s— out of me. It would be something I would never wish upon my worst enemy and I still don’t know how it ever happened, how it ever got to that extent, and for that I am dreadfully sorry,” he said.

As for the families displaced in the fire, “I’m scared myself so I can only imagine how the rest of them are. This truly was an accident. I was not completely straight at the time,” Myers said.

“I wish to God I could turn back time, we all know that’s not going to happen. I’m ashamed of myself and I have to live with it for the rest of my life.”

Judge Deborah Kinsella will deliver her decision next week.