UPDATE: Teen who set fire to spend two years in custody, one year under supervision in community

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Rosie Mullaley
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Judge orders three-year rehabilitative custody and supervision sentence

The scene of a fatal fire last year at 99-101 Springdale St. — Telegram file photo

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."

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Earlier story

'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.

Geographic location: El Salvador.A, Springdale Street, El Salvador

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Recent comments

  • Not Wary
    October 04, 2012 - 19:36

    Wary, This is the fault of social workers? Sorry, I don't buy that at all. There are plenty of resources in this province for young people. This is not the fault of the well educated yet low paid social workers. It's the fault of one child, who killed a man and should have been tried as an adult and sentenced to 15 years. I'm sorry, but in a civil society, burning someone to death means someone should be held accountable.

  • jeffer
    October 04, 2012 - 14:55

    2 yrs for this dirtbag after killing someone? just because he hauled out the good old addiction card? pathetic.

  • Nick
    October 04, 2012 - 14:09

    This sentence is a joke. This monster burned alive another human being and all he get is a slap on the wrist. When he was setting fire he knew the consequences of this actions. This is injustice. It set a bad example to all the teenagers.

  • John
    October 04, 2012 - 12:20

    With this young man having led the life that seems to be portayed as having led, somebody's head shoule roll. He was put in a boarding houseby CYFS with older men. He would not have had kids in his own age group that he could talk to about whatever young adults talk about these days. Just talking to somebody around his own age group about his problems could quite possibly have prevented this. I also can't help but wonder if he was abused in any way during his upbringing. Victims of abuse of any type are statsistically proven to have a greater interaction with the law as criminals. Is anybody talking to these kids to determine whether there is any underlying problems so that these problems can be solved before the end result of the problem can be treated. Mount Cashel and the priest sexual abuse years ago is long over; there is still abuse going on whether it be sexual, physical, verbal, emotional or any other type of abuse. In fact, it could be your husband, sibling, lawyer, a judge, cop, neighbour. Anybody can be an abuser, and are. Abuse, unless treated, will have this albatros around their neck untill and even during treatment BUT THE GOOD NEWS is that it CAN be treated and the earlier treatment, the easier it is to treat the victim.

  • So Sad
    October 04, 2012 - 10:59

    Hopefully this young man will get the help he so desperately needs. He was failed by the very system that was supposed to protect him. ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF A FLAWED PROTECTION SYSTEM!!!! Hopefully the Child Advocate Office people are looking in to this --- someones head should roll. Someone signed off on the okay for this boy to live in a boarding house with adult men. This situation and the death of Mr. Medina was TOTALLY PREVENTABLE>

  • wary
    October 04, 2012 - 10:53

    It's unfortunate the real culprits aren't on trial. We taxpayers throw huge amounts of money at child services & they still can't get it right. It's always after the fact with little or no prevention services for those that desperatly need help. It cost an innocent man his life for this poor boy to get the help he needed. I suspect nothing has changed. SHAMEFUL.