Fallsburg’s fire chief and his uncle pleaded guilty Monday to felony arson and conspiracy in the Aug. 29 fire at Skopps Bungalow Colony (reported HERE on YWN).
James Smith, 34, a longtime volunteer firefighter, admitted to conspiring with his uncle, Edward Smith, 44, to burning down the unoccupied bungalow, in attempt to get his fire department some training. James and Edward both lived at the bungalow colony. James was the caretaker, and Edward did odd jobs for him.
In August, James apparently hatched a scheme to burn down the bungalow because his fire department hadn’t seen much action.
James instructed Edward on how to make the fire look like an electrical fire.
In the early hours, Edward placed a lighted paperback book beneath a live wire. The book set the bungalow on fire. Fallsburg firefighters, including James Smith, then responded and put out the fire.
“I feel badly about it,” James Smith said after the plea. “I didn’t expect him to actually go ahead and do it. Just because we talked about it, I didn’t mean he had to go and do it.”
“As a fire chief, he put a lot of people at risk,” District Attorney Steve Lungen said. “He is going to state prison. That is an appropriate sentence.”
Lungen said he believes that James, though younger, was the more responsible.
“He (Edward) is older, but clearly of lesser intelligence,” Lungen said.
In exchange for pleading guilty, James agreed to a deal that could bring one of two possible indeterminate sentences on the top charge of arson: 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years or a two- to six-year sentence.
Edward agreed to a two- to six-year sentence on the arson charge. Both men will receive a sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years on the conspiracy charge. That will run concurrently.
Edward Smith also intends to plead guilty to mischief for drawing racist cartoons on a Fallsburg road. That sentence will run concurrently.
“I view this as very sad,” James Smith’s attorney, Joel Proyect, said. “This is not a guy that goes out and robs a store.”
Sentencing will be in 10 weeks.
(Source: Times Herald Record)