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Woman gets 10 years for setting fire

August 07, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - One year after a historic Williamsport house burned, a judge ordered a former resident to serve 10 years in prison for second-degree arson.

Lauren Alexandria France, 19, stood silently Monday as Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III announced her sentence.

Sitting nearby, her mother, Patricia, wiped a tear from her face. Both women lived in the house until the town evicted them two years ago.

Wright also sentenced Lauren France to serve three years in prison, to run concurrently, for a conviction of malicious destruction of property.

Wright called the Aug. 30, 2006, arson "very dangerous" and did not suspend any of the prison time.

A jury found France guilty of both charges in May. A witness testified that he saw her pour gasoline and throw a lighted paper towel on the porch of the house.

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France, who has been in jail since she was found guilty, faced a maximum sentence of 20 years on the arson charge.

In a letter to Wright, Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II estimated damage from the fire at close to $200,000.

The town owns the house at 6 Springfield Lane. It was part of Springfield Farm and once belonged to Otho Holland Williams, who founded the town.

The front of the house is thought to date to around the 1750s. The back, more heavily damaged in the fire, is said to be from the 1800s.

In a phone interview Monday, Clerk/Treasurer James R. Castle said the town awarded a $130,674.61 bid to B&G Restoration of Frederick, Md., to repair the house. Plumbing and electrical work are not included, he said.

The town also has an engineer looking at the trusses, McCleaf said.

Lauren France, her mother and her brother lived rent-free at the house.

Patricia France's curatorship agreement with the town, which started in 2001, required her to renovate the house within three years and contribute more than $50,000 in labor and materials. She and her family could live there for 10 years.

The town tried to evict Patricia France in 2005, alleging that she was well behind on her renovation schedule, and had trash and an unregistered vehicle on the property.

She previously gave the town notice that she was leaving, then tried to delay moving out, spurring the town to take action.

The Frances left, under court order, in September 2005.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney John B. Dunlap told Wright on Monday the fire had three major consequences: The town lost a potential tourist attraction, the county lost a piece of its history and firefighters on the call were put at risk.

Reviewing a presentence investigation report, Wright said Lauren France started drinking and was smoking marijuana regularly by age 16.

The report describes a person "who may be slow to anger, but one who can get overly frustrated and pretty angry," Wright said.

He said he might assume Lauren France burned the house to retaliate against the town, but she hadn't addressed that.

Carl Creeden, a public defender representing France, said he advised her not to talk about facts of the case and not to testify during the trial, which is why she hadn't expressed remorse.

Wright questioned that approach, wondering if France would be better off explaining her actions.

Creeden said she still could comment during the sentencing.

However, given the chance to speak in court Monday, France appeared uneasy. She looked at Creeden, then her mother, for several seconds.

"I don't really know what to say," she said softly.

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