The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

January 24, 2014

Angry, wasted arsonist risked 9 lives in Danville apartments

DANVILLE — A 65-year-old Danville man said he was drunk and high on pills, and seeking revenge against a female friend, when he returned for a second time Oct. 16 to set fire to the apartment building in which she and eight others lived.

Jeffery Lynn Shearer, 65, of 218 Mill St., was sentenced in Montour County Court on Thursday by Judge Gary Norton to 33 months to 66 months in state prison for arson and a concurrent term of one to two years in state prison for reckless endangerment.

Shearer previously pleaded guilty to the charges.

Danville police charged Shearer with torching the steps at a four-unit apartment building Oct. 16 at 12 Pine St. — where two children under age 5 and seven adults lived, including his friend, Deb Roberts.

A Danville father who attended Thursday’s sentencing is still very much overwhelmed about the arson that could have claimed the life of his wife and his young son.

“The fact that someone would come back to try again ...” Reuben Guerra said.

Guerra told the judge the fire caused stress and fear to his family.

He said he was severely exhausted after being released from the hospital Oct. 12, and that his 18-month-old son was recuperating from a skull fracture suffered the night before the fire.

“I was awakened to my wife screaming ‘Fire!’” he said. Shearer jeopardized the lives of all residents, Guerra said.

“After his first unsuccessful attempt to start a fire, he returned to start a fire,” Guerra said. “Thankfully it was nothing tragic.”

Shearer poured lighter fluid and ignited the steps leading to Apt. 3 and Apt. 4. The Guerras lived in Apt. 3. Tim Dietz, who had stayed one night in the apartment of Deb Roberts, stomped out the blaze.

“I regret what happened,” Shearer said, adding that he had been seeing Roberts for a couple of weeks. He claimed she took prescription painkillers from him and he was angry with her.

Blames booze

“I was drinking,” he said. “I would never had done this sober.”

Norton, the judge, asked Shearer whether the arson was his way of getting back at Roberts.

In his drunken state of mind, it was, Shearer replied.

Asked if he considered the families in the building, Shearer answered: “It never ever crossed my mind. I was intoxicated.”

What if Roberts died? he was asked. Shearer replied: “I didn’t even think of that. I was so messed up on pills and alcohol.”

He said he didn’t intend to start a fire when he returned to the building.

“My condolences to your family. I wish you and your family the best, and the other victims,” Norton told Guerra and his wife, Ashley.

“I hope you and Ms. Roberts get over this,” Norton said.

Shearer has a criminal history dating four or five decades, including kidnapping, robbery and attempted rape with multiple incarcerations, Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren said.

When the defendant was asked to write about the damage he caused, he wrote only that the carpet steps were damaged, Warren said.

“He didn’t write about the nine people he placed at risk who could have perished in the fire,” she said.

Defense attorney Michael Dennehy said he didn’t want his client to appear to be cold-hearted. About a year ago, Shearer was the victim when his significant other, Sharon Arndt, slit his throat, Dennehy said. Shearer indicated he wanted a degree of mercy considered and didn’t ask for the maximum in jail for her at the time, Dennehy said.

“He understands he will be punished for this,” the defense attorney said.

Dennehy asked Norton to consider during sentencing that Shearer hadn’t been arrested in nearly 20 years, Shearer’s age and health issues he has including the inability to extend his right arm because of nerve problems.

“He knows this is a significant offense and because of his prior record, it jacks up the sentencing guideline range,” said Dennehy.

Norton said he considered the plight of the victims and problems associated with Shearer’s age. The judge said he struck a balance of those considerations in sentencing Shearer.

Norton also fined Shearer $500 for each offense, ordered him to pay $701 in restitution and gave him credit for 99 days served in jail since his arrest.

 

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