CLINTON — A former volunteer firefighter has been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for setting two fires last year, including one that caused $300,000 damage to a barn filled with all-terrain vehicles, trailers and snowmobiles.

Brent E. Smith, 23, of DeWitt, who also served three years in the Iowa National Guard, was visibly distraught during sentencing on two second-degree arson charges in Clinton County District Court on Thursday, apologizing for his actions and saying he would do anything to take back what he did.

Smith pleaded guilty to the charges on May 18, admitting he set fire to hay bales in the 3700 block of U.S. 30 on property owned by Brad Tobey on Aug. 19, 2005, and then set fire to a barn at the Ardith Barr farm at 2389 350th Ave., DeWitt, on Sept. 7, 2005. Smith lives near both of the properties where he set the fires and according to a court affidavit, was linked to the fires because he was at both scenes shortly after the fires broke out — even handing out food and drinks to firefighters at the barn fire, according to the county attorney — and aroused suspicion. He was arrested Sept. 12.

Smith was seeking a deferred judgment, while Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf asked he be given 10-year concurrent sentences on each of the Class C felonies.

Smith’s attorney, David Zimmerman, said Smith set the fires during a time he was abusing alcohol and depressed in light of his father’s death earlier that year.

“His behavior was out of the ordinary for him,” he said. He asked for the deferred judgment as a means of allowing him to work and repay the victims for the damage he’d caused. He also said Smith underwent substance abuse treatment, received mental health counseling and is not a threat to the community.

But Clinton County District Court Judge Charles Pelton agreed with Wolf’s recommendation given the serious nature of the charges.

“Arson is one of the most heinous of property offenses,” Pelton told the courtroom. He said it destroys property that has real and sentimental value to its victims and puts the property owner at great risk, because one never knows how a victim will react when seeing personal property on fire. He said it also puts firefighters at risk.

“The court considers this very serious and it’s not just one fire, it’s two,” he said.

He also said Smith would be able to get mental health counseling while in prison and also be able to obtain his general education diploma and gain work skills.

Pelton’s comments came after Barr made a statement to the court. She has lived on the farm for 44 years and said the barn not only was used as storage for a business and contained 15 brand new ATVs, several snowmobiles and trailers, a tractor and a mower, but also housed items made by her late husband and her late son.

“The barn itself was nails and boards,” she said, adding that it’s the memories created by the hand built items that she will miss the most. Loss was estimated at $300,000, most of which was covered by insurance. The amount she paid out of pocket — $4,210 — will be paid back to her through restitution from Smith. He also was ordered to pay $1,040 in restitution to Tobey for the loss of haybales and $4,437 to the Low Moor Volunteer Fire Department for the use of equipment during firefighters’ six hours at the fire scene.

He also was fined $1,000 on each charge.

Barr said she does not hold a grudge.

“I have no animosity against Brent Smith or anyone in his family,” she said. “I’m glad to see he’s getting the help he needs.”

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