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Crown calls for up to 4.5 year sentence for Vernon arsonist

Lorne William Paananen pleaded guilty to one count of arson on Monday; sentencing reserved for Feb. 23
Lorne William Paananen pleaded guilty to one count of arson on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. He will receive his sentence on Friday, Feb. 23. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

A Vernon man who torched his family members’ townhome could face a sentence of up to four-and-a-half years, while his lawyer argues his two years of credit for time already served in custody is enough of a deterrence.

Lorne William Paananen, born in 1981, was charged with one count of arson damaging property after he set fire to the two-storey townhome in Vernon shortly before 11 p.m. July 18, 2022. He pleaded guilty to the charge on Monday, Feb. 12.

The victims can’t be named as their identity is protected by a publication ban.

Paananen appeared in B.C. Supreme Court in Vernon Friday, Feb. 16, for sentencing. After submissions from Crown counsel James Bagan and defence lawyer Nick Acker, Justice Briana Hardwick reserved her decision until Feb. 23.

The court heard that on the day of the arson, the victims were away from their home on holiday. Paananen could be seen on CCTV footage at the property between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. that day. During that time, the footage captured Paananen taking two jerry cans from a camper on the property, siphoning gas from the camper, and later unhooking a propane tank from a barbecue in the back yard.

At 10:50 p.m., a large explosion erupted from the house, blowing out the front windows and scattering glass across the road. Bagan said neighbours rushed to the house and banged on the doors to make sure no one was inside. As the fire investigation discovered, one neighbour reported a strong smell of propane in the area.

Firefighters arrived eight minutes after the explosion, and Bagan said it was at this time that footage showed Paananen leaving the residence from the back yard. Bagan said the CCTV cameras offered high-quality footage clear enough to show the tattoos on Paananen’s arm. The flashing lights of emergency response vehicles could be seen in the footage of Paananen fleeing the scene.

Bagan went over a series of 12 photographs taken at the scene of the fire, which showed significant damage. The photos also documented containers found to contain gasoline and other flammable substances. One photo showed a propane tank like the one Paananen was seen removing from the barbecue. Bagan pointed out the hose had been cut so as to bypass the built-in safety valve and allow unregulated amounts of propane to flow out.

Paananen was located by police in Vernon the day after the fire. Bagan noted he had fresh blisters on his feet which he refused medical care for, and his beard appeared to be singed.

The Crown lawyer noted Paananen’s actions caused just over $323,000 worth of damage, which doesn’t include the victim’s possessions that were destroyed in the blaze.

Paananen has been held in custody since his arrest, has already spent 577 days in jail and is credited with 865 days, or close to two-and-a-half years. Bagan called for an additional two years behind bars for a total sentence of four-and-a-half years.

Meanwhile, Acker asked that Paananen be sentenced to time served, in which case he would be released from custody.

The two lawyers also argued over how much probation time Paananen should serve after his sentence, with Bagan calling for three years and Acker asking for two years.

The Crown and defence also disagreed on the question of remorse, with Bagan saying Paananen’s late guilty plea does not demonstrate remorse, adding that “there is nothing to suggest he has any remorse or insight into what he caused his family,” and that this lack of remorse translates into a risk that he could re-offend. Acker argued any guilty plea can be taken as remorse, and referred to Paananen’s remorse multiple times.

Paananen has an extensive criminal history with a long list of crimes — mostly property related — in the Lower Mainland. He was on probation for making or possessing explosives in Kelowna in 2019 at the time of the Vernon arson.

Acker made the case that substance abuse and drug addiction is the root cause of Paananen’s criminal activity. He said Paananen has demonstrated good behaviour whenever he has been drug-free, including his time spent at the Okanagan Correctional Centre.

“Mr. Paananen’s drug use is really the underlying cause of not only all of his criminal record but particularly the offence that brings him before the court today,” Acker said.

Acker added his client has told him he is committed to “never going back” to drug use.

The court heard that Paananen was using drugs at the time of the arson, and his substance use was compounded by the stress of having a close friend die just days before the offence.

After the submissions, Paananen — with a long reddish brown beard and shaved head, wearing a red prison jumpsuit — stood up and addressed the court, saying he was sorry for what he had done and the pain and loss it had caused his family.

After a full day of submissions, Justice Hardwick said she needed more time to consider the evidence and ordered that Paananen return to court next week, Feb. 23, for sentencing.

READ MORE: Guilty plea entered in Vernon arson case

READ MORE: Vernon arson suspect was on probation for Kelowna explosives charge

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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