CLEARFIELD – Three former firefighters who set a Chester Hill home on fire will pay more than $92,000 in restitution.
When they were sentenced, Hunter Thomas Harris, 22, Philipsburg, Samuel Wilbur Connor V, 20, Howard, and Kenneth Moore, 21, Lanse were ordered to pay a total of more than $52,900 to the owner of the house that burned in October of 2015.
Each of them pleaded guilty to burglary, arson and related charges and received a sentence of 12 months less two days to two years less one day in jail and an additional five years’ probation.
Attorneys for Harris (Chris Pentz) and Conner (William Fleming), both inmates of the county jail, filed a motion for reconsideration of the restitution amount that was discussed in Clearfield County Court before President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman.
Moore, although sentenced in October, has not yet reported to the jail because he is recovering from a serious health problem.
Only one person, the owner Patrick Coval, testified in court.
Coval explained that the home on Ida Street in Chester Hill was purchased for $20,000 as an investment. The plan was to “flip” it by renovating it and selling at a higher price.
As he and his wife, worked on it, gutting it completely, replacing wiring, plumbing, redoing the kitchen and bathrooms, they began to consider either moving into it, or renting it. He called it a “completely brand-new house inside.”
He and his wife did a lot of the work themselves, but they also spent between $40,000 and $50,000 into it, including all new appliances, he said.
His insurance company only paid him $30,000 plus $1,500 to tear it down. That cost including having the rubble removed was actually $7,400.
Coval stated that he has a disagreement with the insurance company over the amount received because he said he paid for additional insurance on the property that wasn’t credited to his policy. He is filing a civil suit against them in Centre County.
Both the commonwealth and the defense attorneys supplied appraisals for the home. The defense was saying it was worth $80,000 and the commonwealth’s figure was $84,000.
Even though the estimated cost to replace the home was $158,000, Ammerman explained according to the law, is able to only order restitution for the assessed worth of the property.
After a brief recess for the defense to review receipts supplied by Coval, Ammerman ruled that the three split a total of $61,345.84 paid to Coval and $31,500 to be paid to the insurance company.
Coval’s amount was determined by taking $84,000 for the value of the house, plus $1,445.84 paid for the new appliances and $7,400 to tear it down, minus the $31,500 paid by his insurance.
Ammerman commented that he sympathized with Coval and called the fire “a despicable act.”
According to the affidavit of probable cause, police were asked to investigate the fire by Chester Hill Fire Department’s chief. It was determined that the fire started inside a shed attached to the back of the home where a direct flame was used deliberately on some combustible materials. From there the fire spread up the exterior rear of the unoccupied home and into the residence.
When the three men were interviewed about the fire on Oct. 26, 2015, they independently confessed after receiving their Miranda warnings. Their statements were consistent with each other, with the damage and the evidence at the scene.
They said while they were at the Hope Fire Station in Philipsburg in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2015 they talked about starting a fire in a vacant home Moore had previously located. They wanted a fire so they could respond there with their fire company that provides aid to the Chester Hill Fire Department.
Using hay, a cardboard toilet paper roll, a paper wrapper from a new toilet paper roll and a paper plate they created a fuel package for ignition. They traveled to the home where Moore dropped Harris and Connor off.
Harris placed the package inside an opening of the wood frame shed and he used a lighter that he obtained from Moore’s vehicle to ignite the fuel package. Harris and Connor went to the parking lot of Highway Pizza where they met back with Moore.
They then returned to the fire station in Philipsburg to wait for the call that came about 15 minutes later for the fire company to respond to a structure fire in Chester Hill. The three men returned to the scene with the fire company and assisted with putting out the fire.