The man who purposely started a fire destroying two Osoyoos businesses thought he was doing a favour to one of the owners.
Phoenix Lonsdale, who previously went by Phoenix McGourty, pled guilty to arson and was at Penticton provincial court on Tuesday for sentencing.
Lonsdale had just turned of legal age, 18, five days before he set fire to a thrift store where he had been volunteering for a week prior to the blaze by playing piano during business hours. He told RCMP by setting the fire he would be assisting the thrift store owner and pastor of Osoyoos Christian Ministry, Iris DeVries.
An apology letter written by Lonsdale and read by his lawyer Kurt Froehlich in court, said he did not start the fire in the “spirit of recklessness” and it was a “heart-breaking situation” that the business was losing money.
“A break-in left the cash register empty and I knew something had to be done,” Froehlich read from Lonsdale’s letter.
Lonsdale thought he could help by setting up a “bona-fide insurance scam,” little did he know the DeVries did not own the building and did not have insurance.
Crown counsel Nashina Devji went over the circumstances explaining how Lonsdale had planned to set fire to the Osoyoos Christian Ministry Thrift Store for days. A re-enactment Lonsdale willingly conducted for RCMP provided the timeline of events.
While walking to church early Sunday morning on May 1, Lonsdale told a friend they should have breakfast at Tim Hortons, but he would meet him there because he had “a job to do.”
Lonsdale told police he had previously left the basement door to the thrift store ajar so he could sneak in. He then lit a garbage bag full of clothes on fire in the basement and put it under the furnace so it would look like a furnace malfunction or electrical fire.
A man, who recognized Lonsdale as a volunteer with the Osoyoos Coyotes hockey team, witnessed him running away from the building. Lonsdale ran to Tim Hortons where he met his friend and uttered the words “done,” referring to the job he believed he had to do.
Lonsdale indicated in the pre-sentence report he had checked the building before starting the fire to ensure no one else was in it. A basement suite in a building three doors down, however, had a couple in it. They were jarred awake by RCMP and firefighters as the fire rapidly grew.
Crown counsel said the building damage alone was in excess of $500,000, the DeVries have suffered about $50,000 of personal loss and the building owner around $60,000.
During questioning, RCMP asked if Lonsdale felt good about what he did.
“In a way, yes,” replied Lonsdale in the statement, believing he had assisted the DeVries with their financial difficulties.
Crown counsel is seeking six to eight years of federal prison time and the defence has asked for two years less a day of provincial jail time for Lonsdale along with the maximum term of probation of three years.
The sentencing hearing is scheduled to resume on Nov. 23 with a decision by Judge Meg Shaw.