Mom of accused arsonist angry with doctor who discharged her

The 18-year-old who burned down four townhouse units last year is awaiting sentencing

Penticton firefighters work on the four unit townhouse complex as thick smoke billows out of the residences at a fire on Oct. 13, 2016.                                Western News file photo

Penticton firefighters work on the four unit townhouse complex as thick smoke billows out of the residences at a fire on Oct. 13, 2016. Western News file photo

Crown is seeking four to five years in jail for the woman who burned down four Penticton townhouse units causing over $1.1 million in damage.

Sydney Leer, 18, pleaded guilty to arson in Penticton Provincial Court on Nov. 22 and her sentencing hearing began March 6. However, things ground to a halt late in the proceedings as Leer interrupted several times.

During her defence counsel’s submissions, Leer asked for a new counsel and the sentencing was delayed. Before this took place, Crown counsel Kurt Froehlich had put forward his sentencing position in Penticton Provincial Court Monday.

On Oct. 13, 2016 around 8 p.m. Jodi Knudson called 911 from outside her home in the Cascade Gardens complex to report her daughter was out of control. Knudson told the dispatcher Leer had set a fire in the townhouse. Leer could be heard in the background yelling and asking where the family dog was.

Knudson had picked up her daughter from the Penticton Regional Hospital’s psychiatric ward earlier in the day after Leer had been discharged.

Knudson said, according to Crown counsel, on the drive home from the hospital Leer had grabbed the steering wheel while Knudson was driving attempting to direct the car into oncoming traffic.

Knudson spoke to the court on Monday, expressing dissapointment towards the doctor who discharged Leer from the hospital that day.

“(I’m) angry at the doctor, I want everyone to know that, for releasing Sydney when he should have kept her at the hospital. Which is what I told him. This is why I’m confused,” Kundson said.

“It’s hard being around people downtown who talk about a teenage girl setting your home on fire … my daughter. So I just stayed home,” Knudson said.

Knudson said she has been replaying the night of the fire over and over in nightmares.

“(I’m) angry at Syd, but I do love Syd as well. I do love you,” Knudson said to her daughter who appeared via video and showed no emotion while her mother spoke.

Knudson said she too lost everything in the fire.

“But whatever, nobody got hurt in the fire and that I’m thankful for,” she said.

“She’s a tough kid to raise, but I love her no matter what,” Knudson said. “I want to see her get the help she needs, this is all so confusing, but I’m her parent.”

Fire caused nearly $1.2 million in damage

The occupants of the fourplex were able to escape their residences and when police arrived Leer was arrested.

The two-alarm fire had spread to the three attached units in the fourplex. After an initial attempt by firefighters to enter the residence, they were preparing to enter a different part of the structure when the main floor of the residence collapsed. It took firfighters several hours to finally extinguish the blaze.

Leer was taken to the RCMP detachment, providing a statment while firefighters were still working on the fire.

In the statement Leer said she was angry with her mother, she had been having difficulties at school dropping out and she didn’t know why she started the fire.

Leer said started the fire with a large candle, tossing a book beside it and told police she wanted to burn the house down. A fire investigation confirmed Leer’s statements.

Read More: Penticton townhouse fire being called an arson

Crown counsel said the total estimate of the damage to the structure is $1.197 million. There were no physical injuries to the residents.

“Ms. Leer felt she was the victim/superhero,” Froehlich said, citing Leer’s statement to police. “She didn’t feel bad that her neighbours couldn’t go back to their homes and she had wanted her mom to move out of the house.”

Froehlich summarized a pre-sentence and psychological reports during the sentencing hearing.

Leer dropped out of school in Grade 11 and the report stated she was involved in a tumultous and abusive relationship with a young man which ended a few weeks prior to the fire.

“It was noted that Ms. Leer didn’t regret burning down the complex, she believed she did the residents a favour,” Froehlich said.

Read more: Psych evaluation ordered for accused

The doctor who compiled the psychological report diagnosed Leer with borderline personality disorder. The report said Leer is known to demonstrate high impulsivity, aggression and borderline psychotic behavior. She was also found mentally fit to stand trial.

Froehlich read out written victim impact statements by the residents of the townhouse complex displaced by the fire. The statements outlined the emotional and financial impact of the fire and the loss of their homes, home businesses, pets and irreplacable sentimental items.

Read more: Community steps up for families affected by blaze

“When I arrived I witnessed firemen blasting water through our front door and flames coming out of our neighbour’s window. Words cannot describe the feelings of helplessness and pure heartbreak,” said resident Lisa Calfa in a statement read to the court.

The sentencing now will go to the Judicial Case Manager on March 13 to see if Leer would still like to change lawyers and schedule a future court date.

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