Vernon News

Vernon man sentenced for setting fire outside pet shop had history of arson

Ryan Warnock was caught on video surveillance at the scene of the arson.


VERNON - In sentencing a Vernon man to three months in jail for setting a fire outside AJ’s Pets and Things last year, a Provincial Court Judge acknowledged 77 other suspicious fires in the city and said his ruling should stand as a warning to any would-be arsonist.

Ryan Patrick Warnock, 34, pleaded guilty to one count of arson in relation to a fire in the alley behind AJ’s Pets and Things on 31 Avenue the morning of Sept. 6, 2015.

The fire burned partly through the back door of the store, and toxic smoke travelled throughout the inside of the shop through an air vent, Crown counsel Don Mann said during a sentence hearing today, May 13.

If not for a good samaritan who passed by and rushed to douse the flames with a paint can and a fast food cup, the consequences of the fire could have been worse, Mann said, noting a number of animals were inside. By the time the Vernon Fire Department arrived, the fire was out.

Warnock was caught on video surveillance pacing around the alleyway, flipping his phone open and closed, putting a bag of recycling near the door, and then leaving and coming back multiple times before taking something out of his pocket and going into the alcove one final time. As he leaves, the video shows a faint glow, as well as smoke and floating debris leaving the alcove.

Police eventually traced the blaze back to Warnock, and arrested him Sept. 15, 2015.

In a police statement, Warnock confessed to lighting fires in his bedroom while he lived up north. He said he suffered from depression and lighting the fires made him feel better. According to Warnock’s brother, he used to light fires as a child, including setting a school carpet on fire.

He admitted to setting the fire outside of AJ’s Pets, but told police he was not involved in a rash of previous arson cases plaguing the city. There is no evidence connecting him to a series of 77 suspicious fires investigated by the Vernon RCMP between January 2014 and January 2016, Mann said. However, he told Provincial Court Judge Richard Hewson that a prevalence of a particular offence in the community can be reflected in sentencing.

Warnock was assessed by a psychiatrist who found he was at a low risk to reoffend if he stays on his medication and continues to receive counselling.

“Continuing along that path is probably the best in terms of safeguarding society,” Mann said.

Mann asked for a sentence of three months in jail, followed by a strict three-year probation, which defence lawyer Nick Jacob supported.

“(Warnock) maintains he did not intend to burn the building down. He certainly admits to being reckless with setting the fire so close,” Jacob said.

He said Warnock has been working while on bail, seeing a psychiatrist and taking programs through the John Howard Society. Jacob noted that Warnock is grateful to the good samaritan for putting out the fire.

Warnock stood and said a few words to Judge Hewson prior to the delivery of the sentence.

“I feel very badly for what happened and I just want to move on,” he said.

In his sentence, Hewson said arson is a concerning crime, one that puts the public, emergency responders, and even the arsonists themselves at risk. He acknowledged the 77 suspicious fires set over two years in Vernon, and said that while his sentence was in relation to only a single case, it should stand as a warning to all arsonists.

“Arson is an extremely serious crime. It’s a crime that unsettles the entire community,” Hewson said.

He ordered Warnock to a 90-day intermittent jail sentence, meaning he will serve the time during a portion of the week so he can maintain employment. He must pay $681 in restitution to AJ’s Pets and Things, and formally apologize to the owners.

Warnock will also be on a strict probation for three years, during which he is banned from carrying incendiary devices.

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