Teen sentenced for starting fire

Teen sentenced for starting fire

URBANA – Call it a $22,091 error in judgment.

For the 16-year-old Urbana youth who erred, it amounted to being kicked out of his school, spending three weeks in juvenile jail, a criminal conviction, $1,000 in restitution and having a whole lot of people watching his every move for at least the next two years.

The youth who pleaded guilty in juvenile court in May to criminal damage to property for setting a fire at Urbana Middle School last September was sentenced Tuesday to two years of probation and 50 hours of public service by Champaign County Judge Harry Clem.

"I believe this to be something you wouldn't usually be doing," Clem told the youth as he tried to clarify the meaning of "aberrant behavior." Clem also told the boy he hoped the experience would prove to be a "valuable life lesson."

"This could have had very serious consequences if the school had caught on fire more than it did," the judge said.

Urbana firefighters were called to the school at 1201 S. Vine St., U, about 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2005. A series of small fires had been started in the kitchen, which caused alarms to sound and sprinklers to go off.

At an earlier court hearing, Assistant State's Attorney Larry Solava said the boy came into the gym shortly before the alarm sounded and admitted to two other youths that he set the kitchen on fire. He told police he had gone in the kitchen looking for food but didn't find any. He found a fireplace-style lighter and used it to light papers and a plastic table cover. Once the fires started, he left. There were still several students and staff at the school for a basketball game and football practice.

Food had to be trucked into the school for two days after the fire while cleanup went on. And because the middle school normally cooks for six other elementary schools, arrangements had to be made for those schools' meals as well.

A private company was hired to wash walls, fixtures, change filters, clean air ducts and mop up water. A computer in the food service director's office was also damaged. The total amount of the damage was put at $22,091, according to a report prepared for Clem. Clem ordered that the youth repay $1,000 of that, the deductible not paid by insurance.

He also ordered him to write letters of apology to the principal and student body and the firefighters.

"I'm sorry for what I did and it won't happen again," the boy told Clem. The youth's father also apologized for his son's behavior and told the judge his son didn't mean to hurt anyone. He also said the experience had taught him and his wife a lesson on being better parents.

The boy now attends READY school in Champaign, an alternative school for students who have trouble in regular school settings. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Walters, said he's making progress there, is taking prescribed medication, cooperating with counseling and has a job.

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