Pa. Senate backs stiffer arson penalties

Posted: October 18, 2013

HARRISBURG - The Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday to increase penalties for arsonists.

The bill, which goes to the House, was prompted by arsonists who set 70 fires in Coatesville between February 2008 and March 2009. The fires led to the death of an 83-year-old woman, caused more than $3 million in damage, and left scores of people homeless.

"Too often arson is considered primarily a paper crime of fraud, most affecting insurance companies, but that is simply not the case," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery). "It is a deadly and costly crime that kills innocent people, puts emergency responders in harm's way, and can devastate neighborhoods."

The bill would create a class of crime known as aggravated arson and set tougher sentencing guidelines. A person could be convicted of aggravated arson if he or she intentionally started a fire - or helped or paid someone to do so - with the intent to cause injury or knowledge that someone was in the property at the time.

The bill also would increase penalties if a firefighter, police officer, emergency responder, or civilian was hurt as a result of the crime. It also would allow heavier sentences if more than three people were inside the property at the time of the crime or the arson resulted in more than $1 million in property damage.


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