Calif. Firefighter Sentenced to Year in Jail for Arsons

Aug. 26--The Beale firefighter who in April set fire to two vehicles and slashed a boy with a knife was sentenced to one year in jail and five years probation Monday.

The Sutter County Probation Department, District Attorney's Office and Judge Susan E. Green all agreed that the case was unusual and that Sterling Douglas's actions on April 27 were out of character.

Douglas, 20, was convicted of two counts of felony arson and two counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon when he pleaded no contest Aug. 1 in Sutter County Superior Court. An attempted murder was dropped at that time.

He accrued four strikes to his record during the sentence, meaning if he is convicted of another strike offense, he will face 25 years to life in prison. He will likely be discharged from the Air Force, will have to register as an arsonist for life, and will submit to drug and alcohol tests while on probation.

He has already earned 241 days credit for time served in jail.

Douglas admitted to consuming a fifth of tequila, a fifth of rum and shots of Seagrams the night of the incident. He said he got in a fight about basketball teams with a friend in Linda and attempted to walk to his River Oaks Drive home in Yuba City. A stranger picked him up and dropped him off in his neighborhood.

When interviewed by Probation Officer Amy Arndt Aug. 8, he denied remembering any details of the crime, but expressed remorse, according to a probation report.

According to Yuba City police, Douglas torched two vehicles and was spotted by the victims crouching behind another vehicle.

The residents of the home said Douglas yelled, "It's not a bomb, it's not a bomb."

The residents, 13-year-old and his father, chased Douglas. Douglas swung a kitchen knife in the air toward the boy and then fell. The boy suffered a laceration to the chest, which an officer said could have been much worse if Douglas didn't fall.

When Douglas was taken into custody, after being chased and found hiding blocks away from the crime, he passed out in a holding cell at the Yuba City Police Department. Officers said they smelled alcohol on his breath.

He was taken to Sutter County Jail and then Rideout Memorial Hospital, where he eventually spoke clearly and politely with hospital staff, the report says.

When speaking with officers that night, he denied knowledge of starting a fire in one of the vehicles, but then detailed how he held a torch lighter under a seat until he saw smoke.

When an officer asked why he stabbed the boy, he remained silent, according to the probation report.

He had no idea how he obtained the lighter or a knife.

Yuba City police never ordered toxicology reports, so his level of intoxication and the presence of any other controlled substance in his system can't be known.

"It is unclear what his intoxication level was," said Arndt. "Not that the results would mitigate the severity of the offense, but it might help to explain why he behaved in such a heinous manner."

In her report, she suggested that Douglas may have been under the influence of a drug he could not recall or was ingested unbeknownst to him, which defense attorney Mani Sidhu said would explain his client's unusual behavior.

Douglas attended high school in Mississippi and has been based at Beale Air Force Base since 2012.

Copyright 2014 - Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif.

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