Jonathan Jimenez was high on crack cocaine and had consumed four bottles of brandy the night he went to an ex-girlfriend’s vacant apartment and started two small fires that eventually burned through the 36-unit building.
“The fire put at risk 80 people in the middle of the night,” Judge Michael Pietruszka reminded Jimenez on Tuesday in Erie County Court. “And after the fire got out of hand, Mr. Jimenez did not even try to wake them to get them out of the building.”
The judge sentenced Jimenez to 15 years in prison and five years post-release supervision for his conviction of attempted arson.
The court had allowed Jimenez, 29, to plead guilty to the lesser charge of attempted arson in part because no one was injured in the March 11 blaze. Tenants and first responders managed to awaken everyone and get them out of the building at Lafayette Avenue and Barton Street. Most residents lost all of their belongings.
Assistant District Attorney Paul Glascott asked for the maximum sentence, pointing out how many lives Jimenez disrupted that night.
“People who had not much more than the defendant himself were forced to go out into the cold,” Glascott said. “When you commit an arson of this magnitude and affect the lives of so many people, that is why this is labeled a violent felony.”
Jimenez quietly cried throughout most of the proceedings. Defense attorney Daniel Grasso said Jimenez admitted his crime from the beginning.
“He’s standing here crying, weeping actual tears. These are not to put on a show,” Grasso said. “He’s remorseful for what he did. He’s sorry, sincerely sorry.”
Grasso cited ongoing mental health issues Jimenez has been treated for. He was homeless and heartbroken, living in a garage with nothing, when he set the fires, Grasso said. He said Jimenez only intended to burn some items belonging to the former girlfriend when the fire spread out of control. Jimenez appeared before the judge with his once-unkept hair cut close to his head and his beard neatly trimmed.
He said he was “truly sorry for all the damage I have caused and the people I have left homeless.”
The fire caused an estimated $2 million damage to the 100-year-old, three-story brick structure and $500,000 damage to its contents.