Two Youths Are Sentenced for Escondido School Fires

Times Staff Writer

Two of four Escondido high school students involved in four school fires and vandalism of a Catholic church were sentenced Wednesday in county Juvenile Court.

A boy, soon to be 18, was sentenced to the California Youth Authority for a maximum of 10 years, 8 months. But his attorney, Richard E. Mills, said the youth will serve about 18 months before his release.

Mills objected to the scheduling of a restitution hearing for the youth on May 23 as "a waste of time" because the teen-ager would, at best, be able to pay a maximum of "a dollar a week from his CYA earnings" toward the estimated $1.2 million in damage caused at Escondido High School, Orange Glen High School and Del Dios Middle School during an arson spree March 10 and 18.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Walter said the youth will probably serve a maximum of three years in the Youth Authority because the Juvenile Court loses jurisdiction over him on his 21st birthday.

Walter added that she doubts the motive for the four fires and the church vandalism will ever be known.

Girl Gets 365 Days

A 16-year-old girl who admitted involvement in two of the four fires was sentenced to a maximum of 365 days in the Girls' Rehabilitation Facility on Kearny Mesa by Superior Court Judge Hideo Chino.

Her attorney, William Checkley, requested that the girl be given an educational aptitude evaluation to determine why she was not doing well in her high school courses, and Walter asked that restrictions be imposed on her, including a nightly curfew and a ban against her using any fire-starting materials.

Checkley said it was unlikely the girl will be released to her family, noting that she has not been visited by any of her relatives since she was placed in Juvenile Hall in late March.

Chino continued the sentencing of a third youth, who turns 18 today, until May 24 after his attorney said that the boy had sought to enter the VisionQuest program but was ineligible because of his age. VisionQuest, a juvenile rehabilitation program, admits youngsters who will complete the major part of their sentences before their 18th birthdays.

A fourth youth, 16, is scheduled to be sentenced May 19.

Recovering Arson Losses

Dr. John Cooper, superintendent of the Escondido Union High School District, said he expects a joint-powers authority that self-insures the district and 50 other school districts in San Diego and Imperial counties to join with the districts' insurance company to try to recover the arson losses from parents of the youths involved.

Ben Nygaard, risk manager for the joint-powers group, said the Escondido high school and elementary school districts were responsible for the first $10,000 of loss and the joint-powers authority is responsible for the next $90,000 from the school fires. After the first $100,000 in costs, the joint-powers authority and Industrial Indemnity Co. share the next $900,000 in costs, he said.

Nygaard said that, after the first $1 million in damages is met, the private insurance company bears the rest of the burden of the costs.

This is the first "catastrophic loss" that the school districts' self-insurance fund has faced in its eight years of existence, Nygaard said. He added that the insurance fund accumulated by the districts will cover repair of the three schools' fire damages.

"Of course," he added, "our premiums are probably going to go up."

He added that the joint-powers authority has made no decision on whether to pursue recovery of the costs from the parents.

Insurance Carriers Could Sue

Under state law, the Juvenile Court could order each family of the four teen-agers to pay up to $17,500 for "willful misconduct" resulting in damage to the schools. Also, the insurance carriers could sue to recover additional civil damages from the families.

The fires included one at an Escondido High portable classroom building March 10 in which two of the boys participated. Damage was estimated at about $55,000. On March 18, a fire at Escondido High caused more than $800,000 damage to the building housing the cafeteria, kitchen for all the high schools, and the school drama department and theater.

On the same night, a fire destroyed two classrooms and severely damaged others in a $250,000 blaze at Orange Glen, and a $30,000 fire damaged two classrooms and a storeroom at Del Dios Middle School.

At the Church of the Resurrection, the sanctuary was broken into in mid-February, crosses on the premises were overturned and other damage was done. No estimate of loss has been made public.

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