Hospital arsonist avoids longer prison term

A Juneau man received a mostly suspended sentence in court this week nearly two years after a methamphetamine-driven delusion caused him to start a fire that flooded a hospital emergency room.

Robert E. Johnson, 28, won’t serve time at Lemon Creek Correctional Center for the second-degree felony arson charge he pleaded guilty to, despite the seven-year sentence Judge Keith Levy ordered on Monday. Six of those years are suspended and time previously served takes care of another. But it isn’t by way of good luck that Johnson evaded prison.

Johnson attended more than two dozen Coordinated Resources Project (CRP) hearings — also known as the Juneau Mental Health Court — to focus on treatment and rehabilitation after the November 2014 incident at Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Johnson had consumed a high amount of methamphetamine and, paranoid that someone was trying to kill him, sought medical care at BRH, according to a police complaint. After he was released he still wanted medical attention and started a fire in a bathroom. That fire activated sprinklers that flooded the ER, causing $137,000 worth of damage.

“BRH is the only hospital here in town able to service patients on an emergency basis … in Juneau and frankly surrounding communities as well,” Assistant District Attorney Kemp said in court, speaking to the seriousness of the crime. However, she acknowledged that the man who committed that act was not the same as the clear-eyed and attentive man in court Monday.

Judge Levy, who oversees the “problem solving” court program, has visited with Johnson at 33 CRP hearings since May 2015, during which he hears reports on Johnson’s progress in the program. He shared Kemp’s opinion that Johnson seems to have turned things around for himself.

“I think it’s fair to say at the time this event was committed you were not in your right mind,” Levy told Johnson during Monday’s sentencing. “You’re taking responsibility, and I’ve never heard you push fault on anybody else through this process. I think you’ve taken responsibility and that’s a big thing.”

Johnson’s sentence also includes three years of probation and an additional hearing is set to decide how much restitution he will be charged with paying to the hospital. Levy asked the DA’s office to check how much of the flood was covered by hospital insurance before asking Johnson to begin any payments.

Johnson expressed gratitude in court for the opportunity to seek treatment over a prison stay.

“I intend to continue doing the good work that I’ve been doing,” he said.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at paula.solis@juneauempire.com or at (907) 523-2272.

 

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