ELIZABETHTOWN — The man who lit a fire that did $1 million in damage to downtown Port Henry was apologetic at his sentencing Thursday in Essex County Court.
Joseph P. King, 44, of Port Henry had earlier pleaded guilty to felony third-degree arson and several misdemeanor charges as part of a plea agreement.
“I thank God that no one was killed or seriously injured,” King said in court, reading from a statement, his voice breaking.
“I accept responsibility for my actions. I pray that you can forgive me, for I am truly, truly sorry.”
TWICE LEGAL LIMIT
Judge Richard Meyer then sentenced King to 4 to 12 years in state prison, plus one year each on the five misdemeanors, with the sentences to be served concurrently.
“This one of the most serious things I’ve seen on my time on the bench that really endangered a large number of people,” he said. “Burning a building — there could have been people inside — (and) driving through emergency services in a reckless and dangerous manner.”
The misdemeanors include criminal mischief, obstructing firefighting operations, aggravated driving while intoxicated and two counts of reckless endangerment.
State Police said King had a 0.19 blood-alcohol-content reading, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.
$1 MILLION-PLUS DAMAGE
Meyer fined King $1,000 each on the misdemeanors, plus $15,000 restitution, which the judge said is the maximum allowed by statute in this case.
And King was assessed $1,500 and $300 surcharges, along with a $50 state DNA database fee.
The insurance company for Mountain Lake Services, whose Main Street office, records and sheltered-workshop building King torched, has estimated total damage at more than $1 million, officials at that agency said.
Repairs to the structure are now nearly complete.
King was a former employee of Mountain Lake Services who had been fired three years before the Jan. 1, 2012, fires for smoking marijuana on the job, officials said.
He drove into downtown Port Henry just before midnight that day and set several fires around the village.
Blazes at the Mountain Lake Services main building on St. Patrick’s Place and at the gas pumps in the agency parking lot on Rice Lane did minimal damage, although a van in the lot was destroyed and another damaged.
As firefighters arrived to battle the Main Street blaze, King drove his compact car through fire lines at Main and Broad streets, running over hoses and ladders and brushing several firefighters, almost hitting others.
He was apprehended by Essex County Sheriff’s Department deputies and State Police after he turned his car around on Broad Street near Moriah Central School and tried to drive back for another pass.
His attorney, Julie Garcia of Westport, told the court that King remembers nothing of what happened that night.
“He woke up in a jail cell and didn’t know where he was,” she said. “He couldn’t believe he did it.”
She said King has a traumatic brain injury that was aggravated by his consumption of alcohol that night. King was in a coma for three days after driving his car into a brick wall, she said, was later hit in the head by a snow plow and then had a crash with an all-terrain vehicle.
“He was suicidal; he was depressed,” she said. “He landed where he is because no one connected the dots.”
Garcia said King has written letters to firefighters, Mountain Lake Services and Rice Lane resident Clifford Johnson, apologizing for what he did.
Johnson tried to stop King as he drove away from the Mountain Lake parking lot, even attempting to reach in the open driver’s window to get the keys but was unsuccessful.
“I thank you for your efforts and wish that you had only stopped me from doing any more crimes that I may have committed,” King wrote to Johnson.
Johnson and Port Henry Fire Chief James Hughes both submitted victim-impact statements to the court. Mountain Lake Services declined to file one.
“He seemed to be having some sort of breakdown,” Johnson wrote in his statement. “I recommend the maximum sentence the court finds appropriate.”
Assistant District Attorney Michael Langey represented the prosecution.
“Four to 12 years is an appropriate sentence, given all the victims,” he said. “Mountain Lake Services believes the sentence is appropriate.”
Garcia said King’s family was in court and standing with him.
“When he gets out, he can be a productive member of society and have a happy family life,” Garcia said. “He feels awful for what he did that night.”
She said the County Probation Department has recommended a full neurological examination when King is released from prison.
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