PARIS — A former volunteer firefighter charged with setting fire to two vacant homes in Greenwood last fall was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison on Monday.
Jeffrey A. Tyler, 28, of 60 Paris Road in Bethel, pleaded guilty to two counts of arson in May and his sentencing was delayed pending a psychological evaluation. He appeared in the Oxford County Superior Court before Justice Robert Clifford, who ordered him to serve 18 months of a 10-year sentence.
Tyler must also serve four years of probation, during which time he must attend counseling and pay restitution not to exceed $65,000. The money will be paid to Bruce Connor of Chelmsford, Mass., who owned one of the houses and did not have insurance.
According to an affidavit by Daniel L. Young of the Maine Fire Marshal's Office, Tyler admitted to investigators that he started the Nov. 17, 2009, blaze. He said his wife and two-year-old daughter had recently gone to visit family in Florida, and his wife had called to say they would not be returning. Tyler said he lit three dry leaves on fire as a symbolic gesture and dropped them to the ground.
Tyler said the burning leaves ignited other leaves under a barn at Connor's property at 238 Main St. when he left the scene. The house on the property also caught fire, and windblown embers and radiant heat from the blaze ignited the adjacent home at 236 Main St., residence, which was in the name of C. Mellen Kimball. Both properties were destroyed.
Tyler had been a volunteer with the Greenwood Fire Department for about two months and responded to the fire station on Greenwood Road after the fire was called in. Tyler, who lives 1.2 miles from the station, became a suspect in the fire because he arrived at the station at the same time as a volunteer firefighter who lives about one-tenth of a mile from the station.
Assistant District Attorney Joe O'Connor said the Kimball property was insured and the insurance company was requesting $242,000 for the payout to the owner. He recommended a restitution payment to Connor, since he did not have insurance and estimated the loss at $65,000. O'Connor said Connor used the residence for vacations, was in the process of restoring the property, and lost antiques and family heirlooms stored in the building.
O'Connor recommended that Tyler serve a maximum prison sentence of four years. He said Tyler has no criminal record, has been working full time, and will likely be able to make regular restitution payments. O'Connor said the sentence should not diminish the severity of the crimes, however.
“It's always important in these cases to remember there are people,” he said. “There are victims.”
O'Connor said that in addition to the property owners' loss, Tyler put the lives of firefighters at risk.
Defense lawyer Maurice Porter said the proposed sentence was heavy when compared against other arson convictions, including one-year sentences given to two people implicated in a fire that destroyed a lobsterman's boat. Porter said that unlike many other arson fires, Tyler's conduct was not done for money or revenge and was also set at a “clearly unoccupied” building.
Porter said that while Tyler's psychological evaluation did identify some issues, including some antisocial tendencies, they could not be resolved in a prison environment. He recommended a one-year sentence.
Loretta Sanborn of Maine Pretrial Services said Tyler was under severe stress when she first met him, having lost his job due to a medical issue. She said he has since reunited with his family, is eager to work to support them and pay off debts, and agreed to counseling.
“I couldn't have asked for a better client,” she said.
Tyler briefly addressed the court, saying he would accept any punishment the court handed down.
“I do accept responsibility,” he said. “I can't tell you why I did it, but I did do it.”
Clifford said he felt the dangers presented by the arson and the loss of property were aggravating factors in the case, but also cited Tyler's commitment to work, steps taken to accept responsibility, and relatively young age as mitigating factors. He said Tyler's probation officer will determine how much money he will need to pay toward restitution each month.