Sentencing for 2018 arson of Lake Country family's home

Woke to smoke, screams

UPDATE: 5 p.m.

The man who set fire to a Lake Country home, as five people were sound asleep inside, will remain out of custody after his sentencing was adjourned Friday. 

Crown prosecutor David Ruse finished his sentencing submissions Friday in Mathew Hanson's arson in relation to an inhabited property conviction, but Hanson's defence counsel did not. 

Friday's hearing saw emotional testimony from David Yerema, who woke to the smell of smoke and his wife's screams in the early morning hours of Sept. 9, 2018, after Hanson set fire to the front of his family's home. 

Hanson lived just four doors down from the Yerema home, but he had no prior relation with the family. The arson appears to have been random.

Hanson will be back in court on March 2, to schedule a date for the second part of his sentencing hearing. He remains out of custody on bail. 

ORIGINAL: 1:45 p.m.

Surveillance footage of a disturbing 2018 arson of a family home in Lake Country was shown in Kelowna court Friday, during the sentencing of the arsonist.

Just before 7 a.m. on Sept 9, 2018, a quiet Sunday morning, David Yerema was sleeping on his back porch couch at his Lake Country home, after falling asleep while enjoying the warm summer morning. He woke to the smell of smoke and his wife screaming.

Surveillance footage from the Robinson Road home shows a man wearing a blue shirt and distinctive red hat, who was later identified as Matthew Hanson, approach the front of the home, and repeatedly pull on the door handles of three of the vehicles parked in the driveway. He checked a red gas can, which was empty, then grabbed a yellow can full of diesel, poured it underneath the front of a Mitsubishi sedan in the driveway, and spent several minutes trying to light the fuel, to no avail.

“Diesel is not a highly flammable liquid thank Christ,” Yerema said as part of his victim impact statement in court Friday. “If the car goes up, we all go up like a bomb I’m sure.”

Hanson, who lived with his girlfriend just four houses down from the Yerema home, then went around to the back of the home, falling to the ground as he attempted to climb a fence. Surveillance footage shows Yerema sleeping soundly on the upstairs porch, while Hanson walks below and enters his home.

The man rummaged through the downstairs fridge, before the family dog started barking, and Hanson flees.

While it wasn't captured by the security cameras, Hanson did successfully light a fire on the front porch, near the side of the house. The fire grew quickly, spewing thick black smoke, waking up Yerema's wife, who then called out for help.

“I remember thinking, who would light a fire, there's still a fire ban,” Yerema said, recalling waking up confused.

Black smoke billowed up in front of the front porch surveillance camera, while the reflection of the growing flames can be seen on the chrome of a truck in the driveway.

Hanson is caught on camera casually walking away up Robinson Road, away from the home.

“The flames were about five or six feet high at that point ... we're talking a two or three-foot distance before the flames are actually on the pine (soffits),” Yerema said, his voice cracking with emotion. “Once they're into that, it's done. My son's room is right above that.”

The footage shows Yerema in his pajamas dragging burning debris away from his home. His pants catch fire on two occasions, leaving him with second-degree burns, before he's able to get the fire under control. He was later taken to the hospital for his burns and smoke inhalation.

His wife, meanwhile, ran up the road in her bare feet, to take photos of the arsonist as he walks away from the scene.

Once the family had gotten the fire under control, Yerema, with his leg bleeding badly, and his 17-year-old son got in the family's van and went looking for the arsonist. They took a baseball bat with them.

“My son later told me that his job, holding the baseball bat, was to keep me from the baseball bat, because if I found Mr. Hanson and I had the baseball bat, we'd be here (in court) on a different matter,” Yerema said.

Later that morning, a stolen blue pickup truck was found crashed in the area, with the arsonist's red hat and blue shirt stashed nearby. At 9:20 a.m., a man matching the arsonist's description, Matthew Hanson, was arrested by an RCMP officer. DNA on the red hat matched Hanson's DNA.

“He went straight to a gas can in the front of my house, I don't believe he was there to steal anything,” Yerema said Friday. “The reason why my house still stands, a house that had my family sleeping in it, a house that we built ourselves over 10 years, is because we didn't have gas in that can.”

He said his daughter, a “usually extremely happy, well-adjusted 14-year-old girl” has not recovered from the incident, and has sought counselling to help deal with the trauma.

“This isn't over for us, this continues,” Yerema said, holding back tears.

Following the incident, Hanson's girlfriend told police he had been stressed the night prior about other criminal matters he was facing, and he'd been drinking whiskey, before leaving their home in the early morning hours.

Hanson was charged with arson in relation to an inhabited property and arson causing bodily harm, but a week before he was set to face trial last fall, he pleaded guilty to arson in relation to an inhabited property.

Crown prosecutor David Ruse told the court Friday that he feels the sentencing range for the arson should be between three and five years in jail. Sentencing submissions continue Friday, but it's unclear if a sentence will be delivered by the end of the day.

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