South Thomaston man gets five months for setting home on fire to collect insurance

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff
Posted April 22, 2013, at 11:34 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A 52-year-old South Thomaston man was sentenced Monday to five months in jail after admitting he set fire to his home in an effort to collect insurance.

Dana R. Benner was sentenced Monday morning in Knox County Superior Court to six years in jail with all but five months suspended for arson. Benner also will be placed on probation for three years.

During that probationary period, Benner is prohibited from possessing incendiary devices including a cigarette lighter or cigarettes.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm cited the potential injury to first responders such as firefighters from the two towns that responded to the Sept. 2, 2008, fire.

The judge also pointed out that Benner’s wife was asleep upstairs in the house when Benner used a match to set fire to clothes in the basement.

Defense attorney Jonathan Handelman cited his client’s mental health issues in seeking no jail time for his client. Handelman said the Dana Benner before the court Monday was not the same man at the time of the fire.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald cited evidence that Benner wanted to get rid of the house that was near foreclosure. He said it was fortunate that no one was hurt in the fire.

Benner made admissions to health care officials when taken to the emergency room shortly after the fire, according to the prosecutor.

Insurance companies repaid two mortgage holders about $200,000 as a result of the fire. Justice Hjelm directed that Benner make regular payments while on probation to repay the insurance company, although he acknowledged that Benner would not be able to come close to paying the bulk of the money owed during those three years.

Benner was a hardworking fisherman before he became ill, according to family members. He now is receiving Social Security disability benefits, Handelman said. The defense attorney asked for no jail time, saying his client would lose those benefits while in jail.

Benner did not speak during the hour-long sentencing hearing. His wife and daughter urged leniency.

Benner was arrested last July and spent three days in jail for violating terms of his bail by possessing a lighter.

The maximum sentence for arson is 30 years in prison.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/04/22/news/midcoast/south-thomaston-man-gets-five-months-for-setting-home-on-fire-to-collect-insurance/ printed on July 22, 2014