AUBURN, Maine — A former Minot volunteer junior firefighter pleaded guilty Monday to one count of felony arson in connection with a fire at the Loose Caboose Restaurant and Lounge on Maple Street in Mechanic Falls two summers ago.
Joshua Michaud, 20, of Mechanic Falls was arrested and charged shortly after the July 19, 2010, fire and after four investigators from the state fire marshal’s office combed the scene for close to seven hours. He started the fire outside the two-story building and was one of the volunteers called to the scene to help fight the stubborn blaze.
In Androscoggin County Superior Court, Michaud apologized to business owners Michael Hemond and Roscoe Grant “for burning them out of business” and agreed to a six-year prison sentence, with all jail time suspended. In addition, Justice Robert Clifford sentenced Michaud to four years’ probation and ordered him to continue residential rehabilitation treatment at Second Nature in Utah, a wilderness therapy center where Michaud has been for months.
According to Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Worden, the state agreed to probation rather than jail time because Michaud’s progress through rehabilitation has been “glowing,” and prosecutors believe that progress will continue.
Michaud’s attorney, Allan Lobozzo, said that his client enjoyed great support from his family in dealing “with the underlying behaviors that resulted in this charge,” and that his continued rehabilitation would be done in a “highly structured, highly supervised” environment.
Michaud’s parents and sister were in court Monday supporting his plea deal.
In sentencing Michaud, Clifford said to him “you’ve made great steps in arresting your problems and, hopefully, that will continue.”
While on probation, Michaud is prohibited from using or possessing any incendiary device or from having contact with the fire victims.
He was also ordered to pay restitution not to exceed $16,000; the business sustained about $30,000 in damage from the fire. The building had been insured.
Last year, several people wrote to the court on Michaud’s behalf, including neighbors and teachers, urging the court to consider rehabilitation treatment instead of jail for the young man.
Minot fire Chief Dean Campbell also wrote in support of Michaud, expressing his concern that “Josh will be incarcerated and not receive the counseling he needs to correct his behavior. I don’t think time spent behind bars will help Josh to become a productive member of society.”
According to fire investigators, at the time of the fire restaurant Manager Anette Annance, who lives nearby, was about to open the restaurant at 3:30 p.m. for another waitress and bartender for the dinner hour when she saw smoke coming from the railroad track side of the building off Pearl Street.
More than 50 firefighters from eight neighboring towns fought the fire, which went into the upper floor and ceiling of the two-story former railroad station. There were also multiple hot spots along the tracks.
If convicted at trial, Michaud had faced up to 30 years in prison.
He is scheduled to return to Utah on Wednesday.