A former Whites Crossing volunteer firefighter was sentenced Tuesday to 10 to 20 years in state prison for his role in setting fires that caused more than $3 million in damages to buildings and businesses in the Upvalley, some of them landmarks.
In handing down the sentence to 26-year-old Benjamin B. Christensen, Lackawanna County Judge Vito P. Geroulo said Mr. Christensen was both a “perpetrator and a victim” with deep-rooted psychological problems that started at age 2, when Mr. Christensen was taken from his family because they were abusing him. His adopted family received a “very damaged child” who wound up spending years in juvenile facilities, Judge Geroulo said.
Before the sentence was imposed the wife and daughter of William Saxe, a volunteer firefighter who suffered a heart attack at the fire at Fiorelli Plaza in Peckville on March 31, 2008, read emotional statements about the life-changing effects Mr. Christen caused to their family.
“My husband still has problems because of that night,” said Paula Saxe, She said her 51-year-old husband is “in and out of the hospital constantly.”
The Fiorelli Plaza fire was one of seven fires that Mr. Christensen, of 171 Belmont St., Carbondale, was charged with having a role in along with co-defendant Robert Woolaver Jr., who is serving a four-to 16-year state prison sentence. Mr. Christensen pleaded no contest to the arson charges in September.
Mr. Christensen was arrested April 16, 2008, on charges he set fires at Mermelstein’s Marketplace, Fiorelli Plaza, Highway Auto Parts, Fortuner’s Moving and Storage, and Jonal’s Lawn and Garden Center, in addition to two vacant homes. The fires were set between February 2007 and March 2008.
Besides the prison sentence, Judge Geroulo ordered Mr. Christensen to pay more than $3 million in restitution and serve 20 years probation.
Outside the courtroom, assistant District Attorney Corey Kolcharno said the “likelihood is rather slim, to be honest with you,” that the $3 million will ever be paid.