Ill. Boy Gets Probation for Setting Destructive Blaze

The 12-year-old and his brother, 16, set a blaze that destroyed much of downtown Prophetstown.

Jan. 21--STERLING -- A 12-year-old boy who along with his half brother was accused of setting a fire that burned down much of downtown Prophetstown in July pleaded guilty to arson today. He was sentenced to 5 years of probation, the maximum probation sentence allowed.

The other 18 charges against him were dismissed.

As the boy entered his plea, his father, wearing a "Prophet Strong" T-shirt, wiped away tears and reached for a box of tissues.

The 12-year-old's terms of probation state that he won't be allowed to have possession of any incendiary devices, or have unsupervised contact with his 16-year-old half-brother, who is also accused of starting the fire that destroyed eight buildings July 15 in the historic downtown.

The boy also will participate in victim-offender conferencing, which will give the victims an opportunity to express the impact the fire had on their lives and the community. This is the first time this tactic is being used in Whiteside County.

"You're very young," Whiteside County Associate Judge Bill McNeal said. "The act you committed was very serious. ... I'm sure that on that night you didn't mean to burn down a big chunk of Prophetstown."

"No, sir," the boy said.

"I wish you the very best," McNeal said. "You take care."

The boy exited the courtroom, as did his maternal grandmother, who had traveled to Illinois from New York for the court appearance.

Then entered his 16-year-old half-brother. His attorney, Mark Holldorf, asked that he be taken off electronic monitoring, or be given more leniency with it.

McNeal denied both requests, saying that it's still a little too soon.

The 16-year-old next will appear in court Feb. 18.

Assistant State's Attorney Carol Linkowski said that both boys were interviewed after the fire by the Illinois State Police and an arson investigator. Linkowski said the boys indicated that they had sneaked out of their father's house, and that the 16-year-old had a lighter. She said they first set a fire to a recycling bin by the library, which they watched burn out, before starting the fire behind Cindy Jean's Restaurant. The boys then took off their shirts and added them to the fire to increase the size of the flames, Linkowski said.

Authorities say it was the fire behind the restaurant that spread and destroyed eight buildings, damaged two others, and left more than half a dozen people homeless.

The fire erupted around 2:30 a.m. in the 300 block of Washington Street, which is the town's main street and the heart of its historic downtown business district.

The buildings were about 150 years old, and housed business such as D's Variety Store, Twisted Scissors salon, Kim's Monograms and the town's Historical Society.

The town now controls five of the eight lots, and officials hope to acquire two more to make it easier to entice developers to build by donating the lots to them.

The rebuilding effort is expected to pick up steam in late April or early May, when it's possible that a developer will "break dirt" on a new building, said Larry DeNeve, chairman of the town's Economic Development Committee.

Sauk Valley Media is not identifying the boys because they are charged as juveniles.

Copyright 2014 - Daily Gazette, Sterling, Ill.