The shell of the 7-Eleven store next to the Trans-Canada Highway in downtown Salmon Arm remained before it was demolished after a fire destroyed it on Aug. 24, 2018. (File photo)

The shell of the 7-Eleven store next to the Trans-Canada Highway in downtown Salmon Arm remained before it was demolished after a fire destroyed it on Aug. 24, 2018. (File photo)

Man who set fire to car in Salmon Arm 7-Eleven apologizes to those affected

Court hears Kenneth LaForge was suffering from mental illness when he destroyed building

The man who started the fire that destroyed the Salmon Arm 7-Eleven store in August 2018 apologized to those affected.

Kenneth Robert LaForge, 39, appeared in Kamloops Supreme Court on July 14 where Justice Leonard Marchand heard sentencing submissions from Crown and defence lawyers.

On Aug. 24, 2018, LaForge drove a car into the front window of the convenience store before getting out, taking a can of gasoline out of his vehicle, pouring fuel on the car and setting it alight. The 7-Eleven was consequently destroyed.

LaForge was charged with mischief under $5,000, arson in relation to inhabited property and arson damaging property.

After the proceedings, defence lawyer Glenn Verdurmen said LaForge’s intention was not to harm anyone but to make a point about his situation. He was suffering from a mental illness and believed he was under investigation and the target of electronic surveillance. Verdurmen said LaForge attempted to check to see that no one was in the store before lighting the fire.

He said the onset of LaForge’s mental illness was about 15 years ago; there were times when he was treated and times when it was mixed with drug use.

At the time of the offence, mental health issues and drug use both played a role, Verdurmen said, adding that he had no previous run-ins with the justice system.

Read more: Man charged in Salmon Arm 7-Eleven fire granted bail

Read more: Man accused in 2018 fire that destroyed Salmon Arm 7-Eleven to stand trial

Read more: Man accused in Salmon Arm 7-Eleven fire sentenced for bail breach

The proceedings included victim impact statements as well as an opportunity for LaForge to address the court.

The court heard of the long-term and, for some, debilitating effects of the trauma that employees of the store suffered, not to mention losing their jobs and having to go to another town if they wanted to continue their work.

When LaForge spoke, Verdurmen said he gave a heartfelt apology both to the people working at the store as well as the people of Salmon Arm.

The court also heard about LaForge’s tumultuous upbringing that included a variety of hardships, with an early exposure to hard drugs.

He was bullied at school for being First Nations, at the same time as having no connection to the culture.

Verdurmen and Crown counsel Danika Heighes agreed on what they considered to be an appropriate sentence and made a joint submission. Because LaForge has served time in custody equivalent to more than two years, they suggested he be sentenced to time served – meaning he would not have to serve further time.

They suggested he also face stiff probation conditions including maintaining good psychiatric health, thereby keeping himself and others safe.

LaForge was granted bail as he awaits sentencing.

Now it is up to Justice Marchand to consider the joint submission and make his decision. No date has been set yet.


marthawickett@saobserver.net
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