`Martin Pang, You Ripped My Heart Out'
Seattle Times Staff Reporters
One told Martin Pang that he "ripped my heart out," while another said he gave her "a life sentence."
Pang was sentenced to 35 years in prison yesterday, but not before relatives of the four firefighters who died in the fire he set spoke emotionally of their loss, pain and anger.
"Martin Pang, you ripped my heart out from me that awful night," said Karen Shoemaker, widow of Lt. Gregory Shoemaker. "You cheated Greg and I out of our life together. . . . You cheated my daughters from having a father."
Mary Anne Kilgore, widow of Lt. Walter Kilgore, also addressed King County Superior Court Judge Larry Jordan, telling him that "my sentence began Jan. 5, 1995," the day of the fatal fire. "I received a life sentence and it's a life without my hero, my husband, Walt."
Several firefighters also spoke. One, David Churchill, described his fallen colleagues as selfless heroes - "men who would give their lives to anyone - even Martin Pang."
"May God have pity on you," Churchill told Pang.
Pang expresses remorse
In a brief speech, Pang apologized to the firefighters' loved ones, saying: "There are simply no words to convey to you the remorse that I feel. . . . If I could exchange places with any of them, I would in an instant."
In imposing the sentence, Jordan followed terms of an agreement reached last month in which Pang pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree manslaughter in the fire at his parents' frozen-food
warehouse in the International District.
The judge's decision means Pang must spend at least 21 more years behind bars. Up to one third of his sentence can be cut if he avoids trouble in prison, and he will be given credit for the two years he has been in the King County Jail.
Civil suits can go forward
Pang still faces other legal woes. Family members of the four firefighters have filed wrongful-death lawsuits against him. Those lawsuits, which seek yet-to-be-determined damages, have essentially been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal proceeding.
Now that Pang has been sentenced, the civil cases will move forward.
All of the wrongful-death civil suits - as well as a claim against Pang by a firefighter, James Scragg, who sustained severe burns during the fire - have been consolidated for "discovery" or fact-finding purposes.
But the trials are expected to remain separate. The next hearing on the civil lawsuits is scheduled for May 22 before King County Superior Court Judge Joan DuBuque.
Four lives cut short
Killed while battling the blaze were Kilgore, 45; Shoemaker, 43; Randall Terlicker, 35; and James Brown, 25.
The prosecution showed a video in court yesterday depicting the impact the four deaths have had on family members, on the community and on other firefighters.
As the short documentary was played, the courtroom was silent except for muffled sobs as spectators heard about the everyday hopes and dreams of the four dead men. One firefighter had just recently married and still had wedding gifts to open. Another had a new motor home and plans for travel after retirement.
Yesterday's hearing ended a three-year legal battle that included extraditing Pang from Brazil, where he fled shortly after the fire.
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng had filed four counts of first-degree murder against Pang, but his efforts to try Pang for murder were blocked by the state Supreme Court under terms of Pang's extradition agreement.
Brazilian authorities had refused to extradite Pang to face murder charges, because in that country, a person who sets a fire cannot be charged with murder unless he or she intended to kill someone in the blaze.
Pang would have gone on trial yesterday on a single count of arson, but that charge was dismissed under the plea agreement between prosecutors and Pang's attorney, John Henry Browne.
First-degree manslaughter occurs when someone recklessly causes the death of another person.
Fire Chief James Sewell said yesterday in court that the pain of the four deaths still haunts the Fire Department. "There is a collective sadness among firefighters, even today," he said.
Turning to Pang, he added: "You do not face sentencing for murder today, a big disappointment to me and my colleagues."
`The ugliest of sins'
Churchill, the firefighter, said Pang was motivated by sheer greed.
"Martin Pang has come to this crossroad in his life for many reasons, all which lead back to one impetus: He is a selfish person. Regardless of the label of the charge imposed on him - murder, manslaughter, arson, whatever - he is guilty of greed. Greed is the ugliest of sins of a selfish soul, and it kills."
Amy Shoemaker, Shoemaker's daughter, said she has to spend the rest of her life grieving for the father she lost because of Pang's "greed and selfishness."
"Who is going to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day?" she asked. And what about the grandchildren who will never know what a fine man her father was, she said.
"We've heard the feelings of sorrow, pain, grief and anger," Jordan said. "Certainly, these four firefighters were heroes, and of course, it's the court's hope that sentencing today can help the healing process and ultimately there can be some closure for these individuals."
Jordan cited aggravating factors that justified an exceptional sentence: besides the four deaths, numerous other firefighters were injured and lost time from work; there were huge economic losses; Pang planned the fire; and the fire deeply disturbed the entire community.
Jordan also said Pang must pay restitution, and he set a hearing date on that issue for July 28.
Seattle Times staff reporter Dave Birkland contributed to this report.
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