Credits: File Photo.
WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg street gang member will serve the maximum youth sentence for his role in a gang-motivated arson at a West End apartment block that left 40 people homeless and caused an estimated $1-million damage.
The youth, a 17-year-old member of the West Side Bloodz with a prior record for violent crimes, can't be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Judge Ted Lismer agreed with the Crown and the offender's defence lawyer Thursday that the maximum of three years of custody and community supervision was appropriate for the crime of arson -- disregard life.
Lismer deemed the crime a serious violent offence.
A group of West End Bloodz members set a fire in a basement suite at 577 Sherbrook St. at about 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 14 and fled the scene.
The fire was set in retaliation after a Bloodz member was earlier bear-sprayed by members of rivals of the Mad Cowz gang, Lismer was told. The group believed the apartment to be a Mad Cowz hangout.
The fire quickly spread throughout the building, forcing the evacuation of all its occupants, many of whom were likely sleeping at the time. In total, 19 people -- including eight children and a city firefighter -- were treated in hospital for various injuries, Crown attorney Erika Dolcetti said.
Most who lived in the now-gutted building had no insurance, Dolcetti said.
She referenced victim impact statements from people who had lived there, describing some as "quite jarring." One man's pregnant wife miscarried shortly after she was taken to hospital.
"Her unborn child died because of this incident. She spent days in hospital. They did not have insurance," Dolcetti said in relaying the man's comments.
An elderly grandmother lost all mementos and photographs of her deceased son, and she was nearly killed in the blaze, Dolcetti said. The woman collapsed under the fire and told her granddaughter, "just leave me, just go save yourself," Dolcetti said.
A firefighter managed to rescue her before all the floors of the three-storey building collapsed.
"She had nothing left -- other than the stinky clothes on her body," Dolcetti said.
Police were tipped off to look for suspects at a Furby Street apartment block. When they approached a suite they heard sounds of partying and exclaims of "I lit up the kitchen," and "I lit up the couch," court was told.
Cops burst in at gunpoint and began making arrests. The apartment was littered with all manner of red garments -- red being the Bloodz gang's street colour, Dolcetti said.
The youth was AWOL from his group home and on probation at the time he helped set the fire while impaired by drugs and booze, court heard. He told police a relative "pressured" him into participating -- but yet after committing the crime was witnessed "bragging" about it.
The boy, placed in the care of Children's Family Services at age six, has suffered major loss in his life and been shipped from group home to group home over the years, Lismer was told. He joined the Bloodz about a year ago after he couldn't get in with the Indian Posse.
The Crown suggested more violence is possible due to the rivalry.
"Right now the Mad Cowz and the Bloodz are feuding -- it's a street gang war currently going on with them," Dolcetti said.
Initially three suspects, the boy and two adult men, were charged. However, another man has also been arrested. A second youth suspect remains at large and police believe his family is hiding him somewhere on his home reserve community, Lismer was told.
The youth was the first of the five suspects to deal with his charges. He's been in custody since the morning of the fire.