Judge orders three-year rehabilitative custody and supervision sentence
Fire investigators with the province’s Fire Commissioner’s Office work at the scene of Sunday morning’s fatal fire at 99-101 Springdale St. Monday afternoon. The fire claimed the life of one man who lived at the home. A 16-year-old resident of the boarding home was arrested and charged in court Monday with a number of offences pertaining to the fire. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
A teenager who intentionally set a fire, that engulfed a Springdale Street boarding house last year and claimed one man's life, has been given a three-year Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision (IRCS) youth sentence.
He will spend two years in custody with programming and one year in the community under supervision.
Judge Colin Flynn said, "That's a long time in custody for a youth," but he added, it 's appropriate under the circumstances.
Flynn said it was "a tragic situation all around."
'We will always miss him'
Family members of man who died in fire present victim impact statements at hearing
Carlos Escobar-Melina came to St. John’s to escape the suffering of civil war in his home country of El Salvador.
A decade later, the 54-year-old ended up dying tragically when he perished in a fire at a boarding house on Springdale Street last year.
The effect his death has had on his family was a large part of proceedings Wednesday during the sentencing hearing of the teenager who intentionally set the blaze.
“Carlos moved to St. John’s because he wanted to be closer to me and my brother Mario,” Herbert Escobar said of his cousin while reading his victim impact statement in provincial court in St. John’s.
“We were happy when he came to be closer to us because he was one more member of the family.
“His death has been a tremendous shock and we will always miss him.”
Escobar-Melina’s brother, Edin Walberto Escobar, who lives in El Salvador, also prepared a statement, which was read in court by Crown prosecutor Jennifer Colford.
“It is hard for me to accept that someone who was such a good person had to have such a tragic death,” he wrote.
Since his brother’s death, he said he’s had trouble sleeping, he feels distant, irritable and vulnerable and he cries a lot.
But he added that he finds inspiration in the life of his brother, who, he said, died a hero — “a man who never offended anybody and accepted the hardest blows that life and society offered him, leaving it all to God.”
The fire happened at a boarding house at 101 Springdale St. in the early morning hours of Nov. 17, 2011, when a drunk and troubled 16-year-old who lived there ignited his mattress using lighter fluid and then called 911.
Within minutes, the entire house was ablaze.
Five men also lived in the house. Four of them made it out, a few of them having to jump on the porch roof from the second storey.
Escobar-Medina was unable to escape from his second-floor room. His cries for help could be heard by the other residents, who tried to reach him but couldn’t due to the flames and thick smoke.
Escobar-Medina’s body was found in a semi-sitting position, with his hands over his head.
The fire also damaged the neighbouring homes, at Nos. 99 and 103.
The teen — whose name is banned from publication — has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, three counts of arson with disregard to human life, along with single counts of arson causing bodily harm, and breaching two youth court orders.
Colford and co-prosecutor Dana Sullivan initially wanted the teen to get an adult sentence, but Colford told the judge that after reviewing the reports from the doctors who examined the teen, the Crown has agreed to have him sentenced as a youth.
The prosecutors and defence lawyer Peter Ralph agreed the teen should be subject to a three-year Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision (IRCS) order at the Whitbourne youth facility.
It would mean he would spent two years in custody, receiving intensive programming, and then one year of community service under close supervision.
Colford concurred it would be in the best interest of the teen, as well as the public.
She noted there were several aggravating factors in this case — the loss of life, other people were hurt and properties damaged, which has caused ongoing frustration with residents who are still dealing with insurance companies.
“This is a tragic situation for all involved,” Colford said.
However, she noted the teen did call 911, tried to alert the residents and expressed remorse.
Ralph said the boy — who cried uncontrollably while being interviewed by police after the fire — is still racked with guilt.
Instead of presenting an apology in court, Ralph said, the teen has chosen to do it privately and write a letter directly to the Escobar-Melina’s family.
Ralph also pointed out that at the time, the boy was in a bad place in his life — estranged from his mother, living in a boarding house, addicted to drugs and alcohol and suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness, attention deficit disorder (ADD).
“What’s quite clear is he cannot cope with his life,” Ralph said. “What we have here is an explosion of frustration.”
Ralph said it was a shame that Child services didn’t intervene sooner.
While it all doesn’t excuse what he’s done, Ralph said it goes to explain a lot.
Ralph said since the boy has been in custody for the past year, he has improved tremendously. He’s being treated for ADD and is working on completing his education.
“We’re confident the IRCS program will be successful for him,” Ralph said.
Judge Colin Flynn will make his final decision on sentencing today.