In this June photo, the charred remains of a residence on the 200-block of 28th Street are seen following a fire that was deliberately set by two teens. On Tuesday, two 15-year-olds, who pleaded guilty to arson with disregard for human life, were each sentenced to 10 months in jail.
A woman whose family home was burned down by a pair of troubled teens says she feels sorry for the offenders.
Youths with troubled backgrounds like those of the arsonists don’t seem to stand a chance in life, Sherri Ferguson said as the two offenders were sentenced to jail.
"I hope they can learn something … You’d like to be able to see them turn it around," Ferguson said Tuesday afternoon following sentencing in Brandon court.
Both teens had pleaded guilty to arson with disregard for human life for the fire in the early morning of June 13.
The drunk 15-year-olds had stolen a jerry can full of gas from a shed during a night-time break-in spree to sheds, a garage and a vehicle. The idea was to steal to get money for drugs.
Crown attorney Jim Ross said that it appears that the youths stole the gas with the intent to start a fire, as one of them later told authorities:
"We were planning to burn something for the thrill of it — a car, a house, I don’t know."
They hid the gas can as they continued to commit break-ins but, around 2 a.m., they retrieved the gas and went to a home on the 200-block of 28th Street.
One poured gas on or around a sports car which was parked under a carport. A carport which, in turn, was attached to the house.
The other teen then lit the gas and the boys ran without bothering to call 911 or alert the people in the home. The fire spread from the cars to the carport and then to the house.
Inside the house, sleeping, was Sherri and Bryan Ferguson and their two daughters — Cassie, 20, and Renee, 9.
Ross said it was by pure chance that Bryan awoke and spotted the flames, allowing the family to escape unharmed.
However, one of the family’s cats perished in the blaze that caused $800,000 damage to the house and its contents, and another $145,000 damage to four vehicles.
The teens also pleaded guilty to break and enter and to theft for the other break-ins that evening, and to a number of relatively minor crimes that each had committed on other dates.
Both had been granted release after entering their pleas on July 26, while they awaited sentencing and the preparation of pre-sentence reports. But one of the youths was in custody for Tuesday’s sentencing after breaching his release conditions.
Court heard that both teens were members of the Young Bucks, the so-called youth wing of the Indian Posse street gang — although, both claim that they have, or plan to, leave the gang. Both have substance abuse problems and are prone to violence, and both are assessed at a high risk to reoffend.
One teen’s father is a high-ranking IP member and his brother is also a gang member.
The other teen’s family members have criminal records. The boy had been placed in eight foster homes in 11 years, and he says he suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse in some of those homes.
For their crimes, Ross asked Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta to impose a sentence that included 10 months in jail.
He said one offender has a "dim" appreciation of how serious the arson was, while the other almost has no appreciation.
Ross said custody was needed, in part, to help the teens realize the harm they’d done.
Defence lawyers Bob Harrison and Philip Sieklicki said their clients didn’t mean to burn down the house. Sieklicki said his client was shocked to learn that the fire had spread to the house.
The defence lawyers asked for deferred custody for the teens, which Harrison likened to house arrest. Sieklicki suggested six months deferred custody.
Hewitt-Michta, however, said only real jail could supply meaningful consequences for the fire, and form the basis for rehabilitation.
"They ran away like cowards, didn’t call for help," Hewitt-Michta said of the teens’ actions after pouring and lighting the gas.
She pointed to the terror the Fergusons must have felt at finding their house on fire, and the sorrow they felt at losing a family pet and irreplaceable heirlooms.
Hewitt-Michta agreed with Ross — for each youth she imposed 10 months real jail, followed by five months supervision in the community (effectively house arrest). That will be followed by 18 months probation.
That’s on top of the time each youth had spent in pre-sentence custody, when they weren’t out on bail — one had spent 72 days, the other 26.
Meanwhile, the Fergusons are left to put their lives back together. They’ve rented a home in the city and plan to build a new home where their burned house once stood.
Some items were salvaged, including family photos, some antiques that belonged to Sherri’s grandparents and a grand piano that dates from the 1800s and belonged to Bryan's great-grandmother.
But, Ferguson said, the family will have been displaced for about a year before they can move in.
Emotionally, the recovery will take a long time, too, Ferguson said, noting that her daughters have trouble sleeping at night.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 26, 2012