Is a one-year probation and a $500 fine adequate justice in a case involving the endangerment of lives and destruction of more than $1 million in property?
Maybe not, but that is the sentence, according to the Yakima County Juvenile System. The court handed such a sentence to a 12-year-old Sunnyside boy accused of starting the $1 million Sunnyside TV Towne fire Aug. 4.
While the sentence may seem light, the youngster faces even stricter treatment from his parents.
According to his father, the boy will be restricted to home when not in school and will have to get a job to pay the $500 fine, in addition to his probation guidelines.
"I think the year probation is a good sentence," said his father.
"I've talked with him to make him understand how serious this is," said the father. "And he knows he has to get a job to pay back the store, plus go to school every day," he added.
The boy, who with two other youths were seen in the area of the TV Towne loading dock just prior to the outbreak of the Aug. 4 fire, was sentenced last week in Yakima County Juvenile Court.
Originally, charged with arson in the first degree, charges were reduced to reckless burning, according to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sidney Dolquist, who handled the case.
She said the boy will serve one year probation and make restitution in the amount of $500. In addition, he must attend school regularly, avoid contact with drugs and alcohol, and attend fire safety classes for the next year.
If, within the next 12 months, he has managed to stay out of trouble, he will have the felony charge removed from his record. However, if he does get into trouble, he will be taken to trial, Dolquist said.
While the $500 restitution amount may seem like a small amount of money based on the damage to the TV Towne building and its contents, Dolquist said it was not realistic to expect a 12-year-old to pay more.
She said the $500 fine was really a token amount to make young offenders take ownership for their actions.
"They have to know they must pay back people when they destroy property," she said.
But to expect a 12-year-old to pay more than $500 is a stretch, she added.
"There is no way a child could be expected to pay the actual amount, " she said.
In addition to an intense probation period and restitution, Dolquist said the boy must attend fire safety classes and take remedial instruction in fire safety courses for the next year.
Dolquist said the boy's sentence conformed with others handed out to juveniles in Yakima County in the past.
But if Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham had anything to do with the reckless burning sentencing, community service hours would have also been a part of the sentencing.
"I believe the restitution issue should also include a nominal number of community service hours focused on fire prevention," Markham said.
Markham, who was one of the first persons on the scene of the TV Towne fire, said he believes youths involved in arson situations should be required to put in community service hours as part of their probation requirements.
"They need to know the significance of the danger they've caused," he said.
When Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder heard the conditions of the boy's sentencing, all he could say was "Whoa.
"But then you have to realize that there is no way a boy is going to be able to handle the true expense of his actions," Radder said.
"We weren't privy to the boy's sentencing, so we didn't have an opportunity to say how harsh it should be," said Radder.
But based on how the boy's parents reacted to their son's actions at the scene of the fire, Radder said he felt the boy will be adequately punished for his crime at home.
"We just want to make sure he thoroughly understands the significance of what he did," Radder said.
In the meantime, the management at TV Towne have relocated their base of business to the former K-mart building, while they await the insurance adjustments to begin rebuilding their store.
"We were lucky that no one was hurt in the fire," said Bill Blondin, store manager.
"But there were no winners in this situation," Blondin added.