Two firefighters, who previously pleaded guilty to setting a house on fire, were back in Clearfield County court Friday to discuss restitution.
In September, Hunter Thomas Harris, 22, of Philipsburg, and Samuel Wilbur Connor V, 20, of Howard, pleaded guilty to burglary, arson, possession of explosives, failure to control and four counts of criminal conspiracy for a fire in Chester Hill in October 2015. The third co-defendant in the case, Kenneth Moore, 21, of Lanse, pleaded guilty in October.
They were each sentenced to 12 months less two days to two years less one day in jail, as well as five years probation. Harris and Connor are both currently incarcerated at the Clearfield County Jail. Due to serious health issues, Moore has not yet begun to serve his sentence. Originally restitution was listed as more than $52,900, to be split between the three of them.
On Friday, during a hearing on a motion for reconsideration filed by attorneys for Harris and Conner, testimony was heard from the home owner, Patrick Coval.
Coval stated that he and his wife initially purchased the home to renovate and sell. Later they decided to either rent it or move into it themselves. He explained that they “gutted it”, and replaced the plumbing, wiring, drywall and kitchen cabinets. They also purchased new appliances, toilets and bath fixtures.
“It was a completely brand new house inside,” he said.
Coval estimated that he put about $50,000 into it after purchasing it for $20,000. The cost to have it torn down and the rubble hauled away was $7,400. He said his insurance company gave him $30,000 for the home but only $1,500 for the demolition costs. He also asked to be reimbursed for the $1,445.84 he paid for the new appliances.
President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman noted that the cost to replace the house was estimated at $158,000 but he could only order restitution for the assessed worth of the home when it burned, which was much less.
Ammerman then ordered total restitution of $61,345.84 — $84,000 for the assessed value of the home, plus $7,400 to tear it down, plus $1,445.84 for the appliances minus $31,500 received from the insurance company — to be paid to Coval with an additional $31,500 for his insurance company. These totals will be split between the three defendants.
During the discussions, it was mentioned that Coval has a civil lawsuit with the insurance company regarding some negligence in the handling of his claim that will be heard in Centre County.
According to the affidavit of probable cause, the chief of the Chester Hill Fire Department asked police to investigate the fire in a two story house located at 309 Ida St.
This investigation revealed that the fire started inside a wood frame shed attached to the back of the home. The fire spread up the exterior rear of the home and into the residence. The home was unoccupied at the time of the fire.
It was determined the cause of the fire was a direct flame deliberately used on combustible materials within the shed.
Harris, Connor and Moore were interviewed regarding the fire on Oct. 26. Their confessions were consistent with each other and with the damage and evidence at the scene.
They explained they were at the Hope Fire Station in Philipsburg in the early morning hours when they discussed setting a fire in a vacant home Moore had previously located. They thought they could respond there with their fire company, which often provides aid to the Chester Hill Fire Department.
They reportedly gathered hay, a cardboard toilet paper roll, a paper wrapper and a paper plate to use as a fuel package for ignition. Moore drove to the area and dropped off Harris and Connor. Harris placed the homemade fuel package inside an opening of the wood frame shed and he used a lighter to ignite it. Harris and Connor then met back with Moore in the parking lot of Highway Pizza. They returned to the fire station in Philipsburg to await dispatch.
About 15 minutes later, the fire company was dispatched for a structure fire in Chester Hill. The three men then responded back to the scene with the fire company where they helped put out the fire.