Arsonist sent to prison
McLamarrah convicted of reckless endangerment, arson
By Robert Cloud
Judge Raymond Huber sentenced Jesse McLamarrah, 21, New London, to five years in prison Friday, March 25.
McLamarrah was convicted of two counts of second-degree reckless endangerment and one count each of arson, burglary and felony possession of marijuana.
The endangerment convictions were amended from the original charges of attempted homicide.
McLamarrah was accused of trying to kill two people, Devon Ryan and April Hardegen, when he threw a homemade firebomb at their apartment door shortly before 3 a.m. on May 20, 2014. The apartment was located above the Copper Shot Bar in New London.
Ryan and Hardegen woke up, realized their apartment was on fire and jumped out of a second-story window. Both were seriously injured and were taken to a hospital. Hardegen was pregnant at the time.
When New London Police Officer Ben Schmidt and Sgt. Earl Ruckdashel arrived at the scene, they ran inside the building, up the stairs and began pounding on doors to wake the other tenants. The building has five apartments.
The Waupaca County Post reported in May 2015 that Schmidt was able to alert two tenants immediately, Justin Czarnecki and Susann Vanderwielen.
Ruckdashel carried the bare-footed Vanderwielen across broken glass in order to help her out of the building.
Schmidt continued pounding on doors, but nobody responded at one of the remaining apartments.
The officers then kicked down the door, found the sleeping tenant, James Fitzsimmons, and helped him exit the building.
By the time the upstairs was too filled with smoke for the Schmidt and Ruckdashel to remain, all the tenants had been evacuated.
An hour later, a second fire was reported at New London High School. When firefighters arrived, they found the playground engulfed in flames.
McLamarrah was taken in for questioning later that same morning. He told New London police that he made the firebomb using a gas-filled base and a sock as a fuse.
He said he was angry because Ryan had been slow in paying back $100 that he owed him.
McLamarrah also admitted to trying to break a glass pane in a door leading to the library at New London High School. When he failed to break the glass, he then walked around the school to the playground, poured gasoline on the equipment and made a trail of gas that he ignited with his lighter.
McLamarrah has been in custody on a $50,000 cash bail since his arrest on May 20, 2014.
“As bad as it was, this situation could have been a whole lot worse,” Assistant District Attorney James Fassbender said during sentencing Friday. “The fire department got there just in time to keep the fire from getting to the roof. It could have gone through the whole downtown.”
Fassbender said all of the buildings tenants, as well as Ryan and Hardegen, could have been killed if Hardegen had slept a couple of minutes longer.
“It could have been a catastrophe,” he said.
The prosecutor noted that McLamarrah initially attempted to start a fire in the school’s library.
“You cannot depreciate in any way what happened,” Fassbender said. “The offenses that occurred here were extremely serious.”
Fassbender asked that McLamarrah be sentenced to 15 years in prison with 10 years of extended supervision.
“There’s a place for good, old-fashioned retribution,” he said.
McLamarrah’s defense attorney, Kevin Musolf, asked Huber to place McLamarrah on probation.
“He has spent 675 days incarcerated already,” Musolf said.
Noting that McLamarrah had no prior criminal record, Musolf attributed his client’s behavior to his use of drugs and his age at the time.
“If Jesse were not high on drugs, this would not have happened,” Musolf said, adding that McLamarrah was not thinking clearly at the time.
“Back in 2014, he didn’t get it, but now after 22 months in jail, he gets it,” Musolf said.
Huber said he struggled with sentencing McLamarrah.
The judge noted that McLamarrah had no prior criminal record, no juvenile record and came from a supportive family. The defendant dropped out of high school, but returned and graduated on his own initiative.
“He had a terrible drug addiction that may have been exasperated by being the first to discover his close friend after he committed suicide,” Huber said. “His behavior on the night that led to his convictions were apparently significant aberrations from the life he led until then.”
Huber described McLamarrah’s behavior at the New London Police Station the morning of his arrest.
“He was polite during the interrogation with the officers,” Huber said. “He was not minimizing the situation, but he had a lack of understanding of what really took place.”
Huber said 15 years in prison would leave the defendant with almost no future when he returned to society.
However, Huber said some time in prison would provide McLamarrah with an opportunity to obtain treatment for his drug addiction.
Huber sentenced McLamarrah to five years incarceration, which is the maximum time on the two counts of reckless endangerment.
He also ordered McLamarrah to spend five years of extended supervision following his confinement.
On the other convictions, Huber placed McLamarrah on eight years of probation, which will be in addition to the five years of extended supervision.
Huber also ordered that McLamarrah pay more than $100,000 in restitution to Ryan, Hardegen, the owner of the building that was damaged in the fire and to the New London School District for the playground equipment that was destroyed.
“I’m giving you the key to the prison cell,” Huber said, adding that if McLamarrah violates his supervision, he could face up to 40 years in prison of he could “stay clean, sober and out of trouble.”