City man receives four years for arson

Ryan Ross
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Dennis Joseph O'Brien leaves provincial court on Saturday.

A Charlottetown man was sentenced Monday to serve almost four years in prison after pleading guilty to setting fire to a city apartment building that had nine people sleeping in it.

Dennis Joseph O'Brien told the court he had planned to smoke a joint in one of the building's rooms.

Instead, O'Brien said he accidentally set a mattress on fire and panicked.

O'Brien was in provincial court in Charlottetown where he was scheduled to start a weeklong trial but changed his plea to guilty of arson causing bodily harm.

He also pleaded guilty to breaching the conditions of his probation.

The court heard O'Brien knew several residents in the building, located on Prince Street, and he had stayed there overnight numerous times until the landlord told the tenants not to let him.

Several residents were in the courtroom watching the proceedings and dabbing at tears as they watched surveillance video that showed O'Brien in the building on May 8, 2015.

In one video, O'Brien entered a kitchen and emerged with something on fire in his hands.

O'Brien later said it was a piece of paper towel he planned to use to light a joint in an empty room.

Another video showed O'Brien walking out of that room before flames and smoke filled the hall enough to block out the camera's view.

A resident who was sleeping when the fire started was trapped in the building, and other tenants reported hearing her yelling for help.

They couldn't reach her, but emergency responders eventually managed to drag the woman out through the heavy smoke.

She suffered minor burns, blistering on her fingers, smoke inhalation and singed hair.

The room where O'Brien lit the fire was the fire exit for the third floor, and the court heard two residents had to climb out a window to escape the fire.

Before hearing his sentence, O'Brien said he was reckless and apologized to all the people he affected.

"I'm very sorry for what happened," he said.

O'Brien said he had gone back to the building to collect some belongings and decided to light a joint.

Judge John Douglas said there were no signs O'Brien was panicked when he left the room.

He also said it was amazing the events weren't more serious.

"They could have been tragic," Douglas said.

Douglas agreed to a joint recommendation of five years in prison and gave O'Brien credit for time served, leaving him to serve 46.5 months.

Along with the prison time, O'Brien must pay $400 in victim surcharges.

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Prince Street

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Recent comments

  • Regular Joe
    Regular Joe
    February 02, 2016 - 16:11

    Justice is served Douglas style again . 11 people lose everything and one almost their life and a business has to absorb the cost and the criminal gets 4 yrs and a slap on the wrist fine of $400.00. Yes sir the justice system on this Island is one to be very proud of . Just say your sorry and you didn't mean it and you will be sent on your merry way . People are treated harsher for simple possession of POT or Impaired driving . Burn 11 people out of a home and possessions and a business out and get time served plus 4yr should have been 10 and total payback for Tenants losses .