St. Felix arsonist sentenced to house arrest

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 – A Cornwall man is sentenced to nearly two years of house arrest after setting a fire that got out of control on St. Felix Street last year, burning three homes and a truck.

Robert Myers, 54, will also have to make restitution to all but one his victims and their insurance companies after the fire in May 2017. One tenant did not have insurance and no claim was filed with the court.

Myers had earlier pleaded guilty to two of the six charges he was facing – arson by negligence and possession of incendiary material.

On May 17, 2017, Myers had used gasoline inside a recycling bin to cook hot dogs on the front lawn of the duplex where he lived when the fire quickly got out of control, incinerating a pickup truck and burning three homes. Myers had drank a lot that day and couldn’t remember most of what had happened.

Court heard that Myers has a number of health issues including congestive heart failure and has been diagnosed as suffering from anxiety, depression, impulse control disorder and an early form of bipolar disorder – illnesses that could be intensified by alcohol, according to his psychiatrist.

“Mr. Myers demonstrated an appalling lack of concern for the safety of people and their property on May 17, 2017. Although he may not remember, the evidence from other witnesses suggest that he seemed to know there was a fire and was completely unconcerned about it. It was only a function of luck that no one was hurt,” Judge Deborah Kinsella said in her decision this morning (Monday).

“Not only did people lose their homes, they lost items that can never be recovered. Memories of lost loved ones, memorized in photographs and remains. Beloved family pets were also devoured by the flames.”

Myers has been given a 22 month conditional sentence. He will be on house arrest for the first 11 months – only allowed outside on Saturday morning for four hours to get the necessities of life. That will follow with a curfew for another 11 months, to be determined by a correctional supervisor.

Kinsella said the most important aspect of the sentence is to prevent other people from performing similar acts, while also protecting society. But she said the Crown’s submission of time behind bars for Myers in a “far less common” case of arson by negligence “misses the bigger picture.”

“To say, however, that those aims can best be met by the imposition of jail sentence misses the bigger picture. Those aims are met as part of the larger judicial process, where a person is arrested, their alleged crimes may be publicized in the local media, as happened with Mr. Myers, and where the offender faces not only the specter of jail but all the other outcomes which can flow from a criminal conviction,” Kinsella said.

The judge said having Myers submit a DNA sample and making restitution were both important deterrents, even though Myers’ ability to pay in the future would be “speculative at best, especially in the light of his health issues.”

“People who might engage in similar reckless behaviour need to know that there will be consequences that they must face for an extended period of time. Mr. Myers needs to understand that, should his personal circumstances improve, he will have to compensate his victims for what his actions took from them. That is a significant deterrent message in my view.”

There are four separate restitution orders for roughly $430,000, plus $400 in fines that have to be paid to the court.

After his sentence, Myers will be on probation for two years. Included in his conditions is that he not possess any incendiary devices or accelerant except for “one personal lighter” – Myers is a smoker.

Thumbs Up(5)Thumbs Down(19)