Drunken arsonist gets jail time

Judge also orders three years' probation for man who attempted three times to start fire in his rented home.

Al Hemmerling

A Shuswap man who set fire to a house in Eagle Bay in an alcohol-fuelled rage has been sentenced to two years less a day in jail followed by three years’ probation.

The crime took place on the evening of Dec. 20, 2015, when police were called to a house rented by Adolf Albert Edward (Al) Hemmerling and his niece.

She called police to say he had been drinking and was threatening to hurt someone.

According to court documents from B.C. Provincial Court, Hemmerling, now 47, said he “would not go out without a bang” and “was going to take some cops down.”

When police arrived, the accused was yelling obscenities, telling police to leave and holding a knife to his own throat.

He also said he was going to kill police officers and grabbed a second knife.

Although officers left the residence, Hemmerling continued threatening. He stated he had a shotgun, so police evacuated the neighbours.

The raging against his niece and the police officers continued.

“A recurring theme in his raging was that he had cancer and only a few months to live and therefore did not care if he died and would take police officers with him,” stated Judge R.D. Morgan in his reasons for judgment.

The judge notes there was no information received during the sentencing hearing about cancer.

Police shocked Hemmerling with a taser outside the house, but he managed to shake off the effects and go inside. A police officer with a police dog kicked in the back door to distract him, so other officers could arrest him, but it didn’t work. He was tasered again, but once again shook off the effects and went back inside.

Documents say he then began threatening to burn down the house so “the heroes would try to save him and he would kill them.”

He tried to start a fire but police managed to extinguish it. He tried a second time and officers extinguished it after kicking in a door. Hemmerling then set a third fire which police weren’t able to put out.

“At one point a police officer tried to pull Mr. Hemmerling out through a window but he threatened to stab the officer in the throat. He then came back to the window and the police officers were able this time to pull him through the window and take him 50 feet away from the house just as the burning residence started to collapse.”

He was taken to a hospital psychiatric ward where he continued to threaten the officers and one officer’s family.

Court documents state Hemmerling was adopted at birth and had an unremarkable upbringing. He grew up on a farm in Alberta, said his adoptive parents treated him well and said he was not abused or neglected.

However, he later had a history of mental health issues, as well as drug and alcohol abuse. He did badly in a family relationship of his own but he found some stability after attending a treatment centre in 2005.

The court document states he suffers from alcohol and marijuana use disorder, as well as unspecified personality disorder.

The judge stated that Hemmerling’s erratic behaviour was not caused by a mental illness but was instead related to his heavy alcohol consumption. However, he noted that Hemmerling pleaded guilty to the charge of recklessly causing damage by fire to a house, he has shown genuine remorse and wishes to take part in an addictions recovery program.

From 2006 to 2014, Hemmerling was a valued volunteer with the Salvation Army in Salmon Arm, writes community services coordinator David Byers in a reference letter to the court.

“On many occasions Al and I were the only ones to show up to events, as he would never say no. Al was a likeable man and people still ask to this day if I have heard from Al, wanting and hoping one day he will come back to us.”

In sentencing, the judge took this relationship into account. As well as serving an additional 146 days in custody when time served is taken into account, Hemmerling’s three years’ probation includes completing “25 hours of community work which may be completed for the benefit of the Salvation Army.”

He must also not consume alcohol for the first 12 months after he is released, not possess weapons, matches or lighters, not consume illegal drugs and must complete any program as directed by his parole officer.

As well, Hemmerling must not contact the owners of the destroyed house, who are seniors with a small income. The judge stated it is unlikely the offender will ever be in a position to repay the money lost, so he made a restitution order that the victims could choose to have enforced in civil court.

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