June 20th, 2024

Arsonist sentenced for March fires


By Delon Shurtz on June 3, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

A Lethbridge man with a history of setting fires, and who in March lit three fires all within an hour of each other, has received a five-month jail sentence.
Danny Berdan, who previously pleaded guilty to three counts of arson, was sentenced Tuesday in Lethbridge provincial court, where defence had requested a sentence of four to five months.
Berdan, however, didn’t want any jail time.
“Can I get a $200, $300 fine with probation?” he asked.
Crown Prosecutor Clayton Giles told court that determining a suitable sentence was difficult because Berdan likely suffers from some mental health issues. But he suggested the arsonist receive a jail sentence of six to nine months, and noted Berdan’s criminal record already includes convictions for four arsons. Berdan, he added, was still on probation at the time of his latest offences.
“Those four convictions are, I would suggest, the most illuminating when it comes to the conundrum that we’re weighing here; what to do with this individual,” Giles said. “And I say this knowing full well that this countryside is notoriously dry, it is notoriously windy, and a fire, if it gets away, especially in a populated area, could literally be fatal to an almost incalculable number of people. This is the kind of thing that could cause no damage, or millions of dollars in damage.”
Giles said the Crown is concerned Berdan may be a firebug, and suggested only a significant jail sentence might “disuade him from putting the entire community of Lethbridge at danger by burning it to the ground.”
Berdan set the three small fires on March 25, the first at about 7:30 p.m. when a woman saw Berdan setting fire to a box in the alley behind her house. She called police, and in the meantime another witness extinguished the small fire.
While police searched for the suspect, they received another call 20 minutes later that Berdan was starting another fire eight blocks away. Police arrived and found that a small pile of twiggs had been placed against a fence and lit on fire.
A witness said she was driving home with her son and they stopped to ask Berdan what he was doing. He responded with some nonsensical comments and walked away.
Police found Berdan three blocks away, lighting a third fire to some cardboard boxes. As he walked away officers saw him put something in his pocket.
He was arrested, placed in handcuffs and searched, during which officers found a lighter and mini torch.
Berdan was on probation relating to a 90-day sentence he received in May 2020 on four counts of arson. Conditions of his probation required him to report to a probation officer, not possess any incendiary devices, and be assessed for counselling and treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues. He failed to comply with those orders.
Lethbridge lawyer Wade Hlady said his 26-year-old client claims he doesn’t have any mental health issues, although he suffers from attention deficits, which Berdan described as PDD. Hlady suggested if Berdan was a firebug, it would have shown up previously in his criminal record.
Hlady said he asked Berdan why he was setting fires, and he explained it was a “coping mechanism” to help him deal with his grandmother’s death. Hlady suggested Berdan could benefit from some grief counselling and therapy.
Judge Gregory Maxwell sentenced Berdan to five months in jail for the three arson convictions, and one month for failing to comply with probation. However, he gave Berdan credit for the equivalent of 101 days spent in pre-trial custody, leaving Berdan with 79 days to serve.
Berdan was also placed on probation for a year, during which he is prohibited from possessing incendiary devices and fire accelerants. He must also be assessed and take counseling for mental health issues and anything else directed by his probation officer.
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