Victims of 2018 Kelowna arson still suffering from random attack | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Victims of 2018 Kelowna arson still suffering from random attack

Kelowna Law Courts
August 26, 2020 - 10:11 AM

David Yerema suffered burns to his leg and ankle, missed three weeks of work and still has scars and discomfort from the morning a drunk man shattered the peace of his home in a random and fiery attack.

The arson the Yerema family dealt with was one of the more bizarre crimes to have played out in the Okanagan, and in a decision posted online today, Aug. 26, the issues victims face in the aftermath of an attack, particularly when they haven't engaged in any behaviour to lead them into harm's way, was in sharp focus.

"This event had a profound impact on the family's sense of security," B.C. Supreme Court Justice Steven Wilson said in sentencing Matthew David Hanson, the arsonist that caused the Kelowna family so much damage. "His daughter, who was 14 years of age at the time, was afraid to be left at home alone and has been to counselling. The family has lost the sense of security that all citizens should enjoy in their home."

The written judgment released this week offers clearer insight into the crime that gained widespread attention in 2018 for its bizarreness.

Hanson walked along Robinson Road and down the Yeremas’ driveway at 6:49 a.m. Sept. 9, 2018, when he randomly wreaked havoc on the family, according to the written decision by Wilson.

"He tried the door handles of various vehicles before setting fire to items on the porch and attempting to set fire to something adjacent to the front of one of the vehicles."

Hanson walked around the side of the residence and into the back yard and entered the home through a closed but unlocked door while the Yeremas were all asleep.

Once inside the home, Hanson opened the refrigerator and took out some bottles from inside, waking the family dog.

"Rasa Yerema was awakened by the dog and alerted her husband David, who was asleep on the back porch," Wilson said. "Both saw a male with a blue shirt and a red baseball cap jump the fence and go into the neighbour's yard. By this time, the fire was ablaze."

David, who had just woken up and was wearing his pajamas, was able to drag burning material away from the side of his house.

"In the course of fighting the fire, he received second-degree burns to his leg and smoke inhalation and was taken to Kelowna General Hospital for treatment," Wilson wrote. "In the meantime, Rasa set off in pursuit and was able to take some photographs of the accused, who was sauntering down the street despite the fire."

Police received a report of a pickup truck, matching a stolen vehicle's details, that had crashed nearby. They chased down Hanson.

"The arresting officer noted the smell of fuel on the accused's hands. He had initially tried to light the fire at the Yerema house with gasoline from a jerry can, but it was empty," Wilson said. "Instead, he used diesel fuel from another jerry can that was also on the property."

Prior to starting the fire, he had made earlier attempts to light some papers on fire, which were papers stolen from another vehicle, and what appeared, on the security video, to be red nylon strapping.

Wilson pointed out this was a very serious offence that could have had catastrophic consequences for the Yeremas, when he sentenced Hanson to 511 days behind bars.

"This is not a case with hypothetical or theoretical victims," he wrote. "There are real victims who suffered real harm... This is a case where the victims were a regular family, asleep in their home, not engaged in any sort of hazardous activity."

On the other hand, Hanson had tried to change his life. By sentencing he had been sober for 20 months and three days, embracing “structure and rehabilitation” since being the catalyst of the strange series of events that he claims he has no memory of.

"Successful completion of a residential treatment program is laudable, but in and of itself, is insufficient to be considered exceptional," Wilson said.

The crime, ultimately, was more reckless than premeditated, he said, though that doesn't make it any less harmful.

"I agree this was not a premeditated attack, to the extent the accused did not bring an accelerant to set the fire or that he had any intention of specifically targeting the Yerema family," Wilson said. "However, it would be inaccurate to describe his actions as reckless because the video taken on the Yerema family's security camera makes it clear the accused set the fire deliberately and was indeed trying to set another fire in the vicinity of one of the vehicles. It, therefore, cannot be argued that the fire that caused the damage to the Yeremas’ home was an unintended, if predictable, consequence of some less culpable action."

For the crime, Hanson was sentenced to 547 days, or 18 months, less 36 days already served, leaving 511 days.

He also got six months probation, during which time he was banned from possessing firearms, consuming alcohol, drugs, or any other intoxicating substance and entering any liquor store, beer or wine store, bar, pub, lounge, nightclub, beer garden, or any other business from which minors are prohibited at any time by the terms of a liquor licence.

He will not be able to have, either personally or through another person, any firearm, crossbow, prohibited weapon, restricted weapon, prohibited device, ammunition or explosive substance, or anything that resembles a weapon or firearm.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 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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