Man who set Shuswap home ablaze had mental health, addictions issues - InfoNews

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Man who set Shuswap home ablaze had mental health, addictions issues

Salmon Arm Law Courts
February 02, 2017 - 8:00 PM

SALMON ARM - When a police officer tried to pull him from a burning home a year ago, Adolph Hemmerling didn’t want to go. When the officer persisted, he threatened to stab the officer in the throat.

It was Hemmerling himself who set the house, which he rented with roommates, on fire Dec. 20, 2015 in Eagle Bay, north of Salmon Arm. Fuelled by alcohol, he yelled obscenities and threatened to kill the officers. Three times, he tried to set the fire and twice, the officers managed to douse it. They couldn't do anything about the third.

Police managed to pull him out through a window just as the burning house began to collapse.

No one was injured, but the home was destroyed. Hemmerling was taken to a psychiatric ward. The case illustrates clearly the difficulties and dangers that mental illness and addictions have on all levels of the community, but especially police, firefighters, and the criminal justice system which tries to find help for offenders. 

Hemmerling was eventually charged with intentionally or recklessly causing damage by fire or explosion to a dwelling. He pleaded guilty to the offence and was sentenced Jan. 13 in Salmon Arm Provincial Court by Judge Dennis Morgan.

Hemmerling, 47, has a history of mental health issues and a psychiatric pre-sentence report indicates he has alcohol use disorder, marijuana use disorder and an unspecified personality disorder, according to a written judgement. He has three adult children and is on speaking terms with two. The family home had its difficulties, including involvement with the Ministry of Children and Families. Hemmerling also has a criminal past including a conviction for possession of property obtained by crime in 1991, assault in 2003, and using a stolen credit card in 2005.

The same man volunteered roughly 100 hours a month for eight years at the Salvation Army. According to a reference letter, the Salvation Army New Hope Community Church first came to know Hemmerling when he was living in a tent near the food bank. 

They helped him get a place to stay in Salmon Arm, and he wanted to give back — which he did from 2006 to 2014. According to the church, he was one of the food bank’s most faithful volunteers.

During that period, Hemmerling appears to have been successful at keeping his alcohol and drug use under control, Morgan says, but things went downhill in 2014 when he moved in with a relative and began “slipping into party mode.”

Morgan says Hemmerling has personal characteristics that may make it challenging for him to lead a successful life and make good decisions when he decides to consume alcohol or street drugs.

“However, he has proven he can abstain from both and be a significantly contributing member of society when he does so,” Morgan says.

He sentenced Hemmerling to two years less a day in prison, which leaves him with another 146 days in custody due to time already served awaiting sentencing.

As part of a three year probation order, Hemmerling is required to attend counselling as directed by his probation officer, and complete 25 hours of community work. He was also ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution to the owners of the fire-gutted home, however Morgan says it is unlikely Hemmerling will ever be able to pay that amount. The owners can pursue the restitution in civil court. The property owners, who are seniors, estimated the replacement cost was much higher, in the neighbourhood of $150,000. They say they also lost their monthly $800 rental income. 

Hemmerling has expressed a desire to attend the John Howard Society Creekside Recovery Program, something he may be able to do immediately after his release — if there is room. Court heard there is heavy demand for the program in the winter months and concern was expressed about where Hemmerling would stay while waiting to get in.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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