FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 1, 2012
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Senate Approves Rafferty-Pileggi Legislation
to Toughen Arson Penalties
Legislation sponsored by Senator John Rafferty
(R-Montgomery) and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) to
significantly strengthen Pennsylvania's arson laws and create the new crime of
"aggravated arson" was approved today by the state Senate.
Rafferty and Pileggi worked with Chester County District
Attorney Thomas Hogan and other local leaders to draft the legislation after
serial arsonists set more than 30 fires in Coatesville several years ago. The
fires caused more than $3 million in damage, left scores of people homeless and
resulted in the death of an 83-year-old woman.
"Each year, more than 267,000 fires are attributed to
arson. Arson results in $1.4 billion in property loss annually and causes more
than 2,000 injuries and 475 deaths," said Rafferty. "But too often it is
considered an insurance concern, primarily a ‘paper' crime of fraud most
affecting insurance companies."
Pileggi added that the bill recognizes that arson is not
just a crime against property but one against people, particularly firefighters
and emergency responders who can be injured or lose their lives battling
"Arson is a deadly crime that kills civilians and
firefighters. It devastates neighborhoods and communities, destroying property
and leaving victims fearful and helpless," said Pileggi. "We need to strengthen
our laws to reflect the seriousness of the offense."
Senate Bill 903, approved 47 to 2, would create a new class of crime known
as aggravated arson and set tougher sentencing guidelines. A person can be
convicted of aggravated arson if he intentionally starts a fire – or if he aids
or pays someone else to start a fire – with the intent to cause bodily injury or
knowing that someone was inside the property at the time.
The bill also increases penalties if a firefighter, police
officer, emergency responder or civilian sustained injuries as a result of the
crime. In addition, stronger sentences could also be imposed if more than three
people were inside the property at the time of the crime or the arson resulted
in more than $1 million in property damage.
The legislation also clarifies that a convicted arsonist
could be charged with second degree murder if the fire or explosion
unintentionally caused a person's death and first degree murder if the cause was
"People who deliberately set fires must face tougher
penalties, particularly when those fires result in loss of life and property,"
said Rafferty. "This legislation recognizes the severity of the crime and
ensures that those who put others in harm's way by committing arson receive the
punishment they deserve."