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More jail time for Vernon man whose arson had ‘no explanation’

Lorne Paananen was sentenced to an additional 718 days behind bars
Lorne William Paananen pleaded guilty to one count of arson on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. He was sentenced to 718 additional days in jail on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

A Vernon man will spend the next two years behind bars for causing an explosive fire at a home in the summer of 2022.

Lorne William Paananen received his sentence of 718 additional days in jail in B.C. Supreme Court in Vernon Friday, Feb. 23.

Justice Briana Hardwick sided with the Crown in imposing the added jail time, which works out to a sentence of roughly four and a half years including time he’s already spent in custody, for which he received time-and-a-half credit. Paananen was arrested shortly after the incident and charged with arson in the summer of 2022.

Hardwick also sided with the defence’s call for a two-year probation period over the Crown’s ask of three years, to be served following his incarceration.

Paananen, born in 1981, pleaded guilty to the arson charge on Monday, Feb. 12.

The fire broke out at a triplex in the Harwood area on July 18, 2022, when an explosion took place around just before 11 p.m. No one was injured in the incident as the principle victims (known to Paananen) had left for a summer vacation, and Hardwick acknowledged that Paananen committed the arson with the knowledge that no one would be inside any of the units that night.

Neighbours banged on the door of the burning home to make sure no one was inside, and called 911. Emergency personnel arrived eight minutes after the call. CCTV camera footage showed Paananen fleeing the scene through the back yard as the lights from emergency vehicles flashed.

However, Hardwick said Paananen’s actions were “planned and deliberate” — he had spent time siphoning gas from a camper parked in the driveway, unhooking and modifying a barbecue propane tank, barricading the rear door of the home and igniting the blaze before escaping the building, which Hardwick presumed he did through one of the upstairs windows where he had removed an air conditioning unit.

After Crown counsel James Bagan and defence lawyer Nick Acker spent all day a week earlier (Feb. 16) going over the agreed upon facts and posing their arguments, Justice Hardwick was still left unsure of exactly why Paananen did what he did, saying the only obvious explanation was the substance misuse he was engaging in at the time.

“There simply just is not an explanation for why (the victims) lost their home, and he must be accordingly punished,” she said.

Last week, the defence and Crown spent time debating Paananen’s level of remorse, with Acker saying Paananen’s guilty plea should be taken as an indication of remorse, and Bagan arguing “there was nothing to suggest” he had any remorse.

On Friday, Hardwick said she was convinced of Paananen’s remorse, having observed that he could not make eye contact with the victims in the gallery during the proceedings, and only did so when he offered a few words of apology near the end of last Friday’s sentencing hearing. That remorse, Hardwick said, was a “more significant” mitigating factor than his guilty plea, which came just days before sentencing.

Throughout the sentencing, Paananen’s substance abuse issues were noted as being a root cause of his past criminal activity, most of which was property-related offences. The death of a close friend shortly before the arson was noted by Hardwick as exacerbating those issues.

Hardwick said Paanaen’s criminal history was an aggravating factor, particularly his offences from 2018 until the time of the arson, when he was abusing substances and failing to comply with the Criminal Code and the terms of his judicil release. He was on probation at the time of the arson for a conviction of making or possessing explosives in Kelowna in 2019.

Under the conditions of his probation order, Paananen is to have no contact with the victims and is subject to a 10-year weapons ban and a DNA order. He is also prohibited from possessing explosives but is allowed to carry a lighter as he is a smoker

Hardwick chose not to impose a restitution order on Paananen and he will not have to pay a victim surcharge, as Hardwick said he would have no means to pay the fine.

A publication ban was put in place to protect the identities of the victims in the case.

READ MORE: Crown calls for up to 4.5 year sentence for Vernon arsonist

READ MORE: Guilty plea entered in Vernon arson case

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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