Teen arsonist draws four-year jail sentence

Judge says teen showed callous disregard to the damage caused by blaze that destroyed Osoyoos thrift store

An Osoyoos teen is looking at time in a federal prison after pleading guilty to an arson that cost a pastor her livelihood.

On Monday Phoenix Lonsdale, who previously went by Phoenix McGourty, was handed a four-year sentence on top of the 233 days he already has spent behind bars.

Judge Meg Shaw said Lonsdale had a “callous disregard” to the damage he caused both to the physical buildings and to the lives of those who worked, lived and owned businesses in the area.

Lonsdale had turned 18 just five days before he set fire to the thrift store in downtown Osoyoos. In November, during the pre-sentence hearing, the court heard that he had been volunteering at the store, playing the piano during business hours.

Lonsdale told RCMP that by setting the fire he thought he would be assisting the thrift store owner and pastor of Osoyoos Christian Ministry Iris DeVries. The court heard DeVries suffered about $50,000 of personal loss, and damage to the building itself was in excess of $500,000.

In an apology letter his lawyer read on his behalf in November, Lonsdale said it was a “heart-breaking situation” that the business was losing money. Lonsdale said he thought he could help by setting up a “bona-fide insurance scam” and he did not realize the building and contents were not covered by insurance.

Shaw said even though Lonsdale apologized, she thought his actions were reckless and his apology had “no air or reality to it and shows little empathy for the victims.”

Lonsdale admitted to police he had purposely left the basement door to the thrift store ajar so he could sneak in early on the morning of May 1. He lit a garbage bag full of clothes on fire in the basement and put it under the furnace so it would look like a malfunction or electrical fire. He was spotted running away from the scene by the owner of the Osoyoos Coyotes hockey club, who recognized Lonsdale as a volunteer with the team and their national anthem singer.

No injuries occurred as a result of the fire, but a couple was sleeping in a basement suite in a building three doors down. They were jarred awake and ushered out by RCMP and firefighters as the fire rapidly grew, consuming the thrift store, the Dollar Smart Discount store and causing damage to a nearby bank and dental clinic.

The judge referred to an assessment completed on Lonsdale in court on Monday stating he continues to be a high risk to reoffend.

Crown counsel Nashina Devji was seeking six to eight years of federal prison time and defence lawyer Kurt Froehlich asked for two years less a day of provincial jail time as well as the maximum term of probation of three years.