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Lockport water chief placed on probation in torching of own home

LOCKPORT – Dale W. Lawson, the City of Lockport’s water distribution director, said Tuesday he wants to return to his city job, following a probation sentence for setting fire to his home’s back porch April 18 in a drunken argument with his wife.

Lawson pleaded guilty May 31 to second-degree criminal mischief, a felony. Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III placed him on probation for five years and assigned him to mental health court in Lockport. Defense attorney Michael H. White said he hopes Lawson would be allowed to reduce his plea to a misdemeanor if he successfully completes treatment.

Lawson, 53, told a probation officer in a presentencing interview that the April 18 fire at his Grosvenor Street home was a suicide attempt.

“That was stated to the police, to the point that I was in isolation the whole two days I was incarcerated, both at the city and the county,” Lawson told reporters.

“This was a cry for help,” White said in court. He told Murphy that Lawson’s father killed himself in 2006.

“He never dealt with that,” White said, adding there was tension between Lawson’s ex-wife and a child of his.

“He was going to harm himself if he was going to harm anyone,” White said.

Lawson poured gasoline on the porch and lit it. Lawson said he’s stopped drinking since the night of his arrest and has been diagnosed in psychiatric treatment with attention deficit disorder, depression and alcohol abuse. He said of drinking, “I see now that it has caused a lot of stress in my life.”

Assistant District Attorney Heather A. Sloma said she had never heard about the incident being a suicide attempt. She obtained a limited protective order from the court, directing Lawson not to commit any crimes against his wife, Molly Lawson.

Molly told the judge, “I was never in fear for my life, that night or any night. Dale is a kind, compassionate man who would never hurt anyone.”

Lawson, a city employee since 1990, was placed on administrative leave after his arrest. City Civil Service Secretary Mary Pat Holz said Lawson was unpaid for the first 30 days, then started drawing his $54,530-a-year salary again, and last month was taken off leave, although he wasn’t brought back to work. He’s been drawing a salary by using his own accumulated vacation, sick and personal time, Holz said.

She said it’s possible Lawson could be brought back to work. Lawson said, “That’s up to the mayor and the City of Lockport.”

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey was not immediately available for comment.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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