Judge rules well on juvenile arson case

Published 9:28 pm Thursday, July 30, 2009

Whether the Franklin Street fire that destroyed four buildings on June 24 was just the result of a prank that got out of hand or was deliberately set, the results were the same.

Two occupied homes and one unoccupied home were destroyed, displacing a total of 11 people. A total of four buildings were destroyed. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries. A fire truck suffered heat damage. Firefighters were on the scene for hours dousing the blaze.

Nobody died in the conflagration, but things could have turned out horribly worse. Any one of the people who had to be evacuated from the burning buildings could easily have been trapped and unable to escape. Firefighters — who are at risk anytime they rush to the scene of an emergency — could have been seriously injured or killed in their efforts to save the neighborhood and its residents from further harm.

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Reasonable people understand such things, so reasonable people take great pains to avoid actions that could cause a fire.

A Suffolk youth, however, stands accused of intentionally starting a small fire that quickly got out of hand, consuming the four buildings and endangering many lives in the process. No evidence has been presented to suggest that he did so with malice toward anyone in the neighborhood, and even the arson charges he face still must be proved in court.

But a juvenile court judge made a wise decision this week when he ruled that the 15-year-old boy should be tried as an adult during upcoming court appearances. The damage — and the potential damage — was just too great for the limited punishments that are allowed under Virginia’s juvenile court system.

If the boy who is accused of starting the Franklin Street fire is deemed after a trial to have been innocent of the crime, he will go free and return to life as a teenager, and the citizens of Suffolk can be glad that the hand of judgment was removed from an innocent person.

If he is found guilty, however, the crime is heinous enough that he deserves to be punished in a manner similar to what an adult would face in the same situation.