Man accused of burning several Shamokin buildings to serve up to seven years
SUNBURY - Two of the victims of fires set by James L. Neidlinger Jr. that destroyed several Shamokin properties lashed out at the arsonist Monday morning while urging a county judge to impose the harshest sentence possible against him under the law.
The 22-year-old Shamokin man was sentenced by Northumberland County President Judge William H. Wiest to 3 1/2 to 7 years in state prison on three felony counts of arson and two years of consecutive probation upon his release from prison.
He also was ordered to make approximately $77,000 in restitution and ordered to pay $300 in fines plus an assortment of costs and fees.
Several other charges were not prosecuted under a plea agreement.
"What sticks in my mind the most is this idiot standing across the street smiling, talking on a cell phone, smoking a cigarette and watching these homes engulfed in flames," said William Fennessy, son of Bettina Fennessy, whose property at 604-606 E. Sunbury St. was destroyed by fire Jan. 28, 2013.
Fennessy, who resides in Paxinos, said the fire not only destroyed his mother's home and cherished possessions, including three Bronze Stars and other war memorabilia, but also endangered the lives of neighbors and firefighters.
"This was an unnecessary cruel and senseless act," he added. "He not only sets the buildings on fire, but stands there and laughs about it."
Fennessy said his mother was in a nursing home prior to the fire.
He said it cost approximately $14,000 to raze the structure after the blaze. Fennessy, who said his mother's home was valued at approximately $20,000, said the fire also cost him an additional $6,000 in expenses, including legal fees.
Fennessy was accompanied to the sentencing by his wife, Tina.
Barbara Frazier, of Coal Township, who owned an apartment building at 608 E. Sunbury St. destroyed in the same blaze, stated, "I can't understand why someone would do something of this nature. I feel for all the victims. I was renovating the apartments when the fire occurred and I lost a lot of tools and the opportunity to rent it out for some revenue. Plus, it cost me about $10,000 to tear it down."
In addition to her expenses, Frazier said she's still paying a price mentally from the fire.
"I have nightmares about the fire. It just sticks with me," she said.
Neidlinger, who was wearing a green hoodie, sneakers and a county jail jumpsuit, remained silent while Fennessy and Frazier gave their victim impact statements to the court.
He offered no remarks of his own when asked by Wiest for comment before being sentenced.
His parents, James and Tonia Neidlinger, of Shamokin, and his aunt, Corena Reich, attended the sentencing, but reserved comment.
In addition to making $34,000 and $10,097.60 in restitution to Bettina Fennessy and Frazier, respectively, Neidlinger, who pleaded no contest to the three arson charges March 7, was ordered to provide $33,000 in restitution to fire victim Steve Bednar for a blaze that destroyed the former Hardshell Cafe and an adjacent property in the 400 block of North Shamokin Street Jan. 24, 2013.
The arsonist also was charged with intentionally setting a fire at 717 N. Shamokin St. Sept. 5, 2012.
All the charges were filed by Shamokin Patrolman and Fire Investigator Raymond Siko II.
County conflicts counsel John Broda, who represented Neidlinger, requested a minimum sentence of 36 months, which was only six months less than what Wiest imposed. Broda said the sentence was on the bottom standard range for the offense.
Broda said the maximum sentence for the offenses was 20 years and/or $75,000 in fines.
Assistant district attorney Michael Toomey, who prosecuted the case, said he was hoping for a longer sentence and didn't expect the penalties for each of the three arson counts to run concurrent to each other.
Neidlinger has been incarcerated in the county jail since Jan. 29, 2013, in lieu of $250,000 cash bail. He will be transferred at a later date to a state correctional institution.