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Man sentenced to prison for setting Hagerstown apartment fire

July 18, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- A confessed arsonist was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison, with all but seven years suspended, for setting a fire at a Hagerstown apartment complex in 2007.

Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. also sentenced Jason Todd Burkett, 26, of Middletown, Md., to four years of supervised probation.

Burkett also is required to pay $3,500 in restitution to Washington Gardens Apartments for damage caused by the fire that spread to four apartments on Oct. 6, 2007. Burkett previously said he set fire to the apartment building after an argument with a woman he had dated who lived there.

Several people, including children, were trapped in their apartments, and some jumped out of windows to escape, The Herald-Mail previously reported. Long said there were 14 people in the apartments when the early morning fire was set. Nobody was injured.

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"Thank your good Lord that nobody died," Long told Burkett during the sentencing.

Burkett said in court Thursday that he was intoxicated and had been using drugs when he used gasoline to set the fire.

It was revealed in court Thursday that Burkett visited several bars the night he set the fire. Burkett became jealous when he saw his ex-girlfriend flirting with other men, and the two began to argue.

They argued at the Washington Gardens apartment complex, and Burkett was asked to leave, according to previous reports.

Defense attorney Eric Andrews said Burkett remembers asking for money that he had inside the apartment. He left the apartment and later returned with a gas can.

Andrews said Burkett used a twig and matches to light the gasoline that he had poured around the apartment building. Burkett became frightened when the gasoline ignited and dropped his car keys and other items into the spreading blaze, Andrews said.

He said his client later returned to the scene to make sure the fire was out, and pulled the fire alarm in one of the apartment buildings.

Hagerstown fire marshals in the courtroom Thursday said residents used fire extinguishers to put out the fire.

Before being sentenced, Burkett read a statement to the court apologizing for his actions the night he set the fire. Burkett, who had worked at Best Buy and is a graduate of a Washington County high school, said he has one son who he had custody of before being remanded to the custody of the Washington County Sheriff's Department during the pre-sentence investigation.

On Thursday, Long gave Burkett credit for the 82 days he already has served in jail.

Burkett said he suffers from alcoholism, and after setting the fire, he sought counseling and has attended regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. His sponsor from that group was in court Thursday.

"I beg for your mercy," Burkett said in court. "And I ask for your forgiveness."

The victims of his crime did not comment during the court proceeding.

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