Press-Republican

March 15, 2013

Port Henry arsonist pleads guilty

BY LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — A Port Henry man admitted in court Thursday that he tried to burn down part of Port Henry’s business district, then almost ran over firefighters as he fled the village.

Joseph P. King, 44, was in Essex County Court to plead guilty to felony third-degree arson and several misdemeanor charges as part of a plea agreement.

The misdemeanors are fourth-degree criminal mischief, obstructing firefighting operations, aggravated driving while intoxicated and two counts of second-degree reckless endangerment.

HIGH ALCOHOL CONTENT

State Police said King had a 0.19 blood alcohol content — more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 — when he was apprehended.

King was brought into court wearing a striped prison uniform, with handcuffs and leg shackles. He was represented by attorney Julie Garcia of Westport, with Assistant District Attorney Michael Langey there for the prosecution.

NEAR MAX SENTENCE

Judge Richard Meyer said he’ll accept the plea agreement and sentence King to four to 14 years in state prison on May 16.

“This (sentence) represents as close to the maximum as possible without being the maximum,” the judge said.

The maximum sentence would have been five to 15 years in state prison. Meyer requested a pre-sentence report on King from the County Probation Department.

At around midnight on Jan. 2, 2012, King set several fires around the village of Port Henry, including one that did more than $500,000 damage to Mountain Lake Services’ downtown office building and an adjoining structure.

“You damaged the building by starting a fire and causing an explosion,” Meyer told King.

King had been fired from his job as a residential-care aide by Mountain Lake Services in 2008.

‘BAD CHOICE’

Garcia said King has recently written letters to firefighters and Mountain Lake Services apologizing for what he did.

“The bad choice he made on that day was he drank,” she said. “He’s taken responsibility for the actions he’s pleaded guilty to. He’s truly remorseful.

“He wants to apologize to the community,” she said.

King’s family was in court to support him, Garcia said.

“People really like Joe King. He has a reputation of being a family man. It’s been very difficult on his family while he’s been in jail.”

Garcia asked Meyer to release King on his own recognizance before sentencing so he can set his affairs in order.

Meyer said he wouldn’t do that but would reduce King’s bail, which was $100,000 bail bond or $50,000 cash, to $25,000 cash or $50,000 bail bond.

FIRES SET

Firefighters were first called to the Mountain Lake Services office building at 4326 Main St. in Port Henry, where King has now admitted he set fires in at least two places inside the structure, which is part of the Sagan Block.

While firefighters were at that first fire, a Mountain Lake Services van was discovered burning in the agency’s parking lot on Rice Lane. A second van and the agency’s gas pumps had flaming materials thrown on them, but they failed to ignite, as did the organization’s main building, the Helen F. McDonald Center, on St. Patrick’s Place nearby.

In the main building, King set fires in several places, but those burned out before doing significant damage.

RECKLESS DRIVING

King then drove his compact car through fire lines at Main and Broad streets, running over hoses and ladders and brushing several firefighters, almost striking others. A person assisting firefighters suffered a back injury when he was allegedly hit by King’s car.

An Essex County Sheriff’s Department deputy chased King when he made a U-turn at Moriah Central School, pursuing him back down Broad Street toward the fire.

As King approached in his car, another Sheriff’s Department deputy used a vehicle to block the street, and State Police cut him off to the side.

King had to be pulled from the car after he allegedly refused to get out.

REPAIRS STARTING

Repairs to the Mountain Lake Services Main Street building are expected to get under way in a few weeks, officials at the agency said this week.

Mountain Lake Services assists individuals with developmental disabilities at multiple locations throughout Essex County.

Email Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com