WILKES-BARRE — A Berwick woman convicted of torching a Conyngham building complex in September 2010 was sentenced Monday to 14 to 28 years in state prison.
Gail Schneider, 44, was sentenced on seven related charges stemming from the fire that caused $1.3 million in damage.
“I’m glad it’s over,” 95-year-old fire victim Nellie Stratts said after learning Schneider’s sentence. “It’s (a horrible) thing that happened to all of us.”
According to court papers, Valley Regional Fire and Rescue responded to the two-story Lantern Lane complex at 314-316 S. Main St. just after 2:30 a.m. after a neighbor called 911 on Sept. 5.
The building encompasses four businesses on the first floor and four apartments on the second, owner Kenneth Temborski testified during Schneider’s April jury trial.
Firefighters and neighbors helped second-floor tenants Barbara Reese, also 95, and Stratts escape. Several people were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. One tenant was taken to Hazleton General Hospital for treatment.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, state police Cpl. Shawn A. Hilbert said.
Other displaced second-floor apartment tenants were Jeffrey Antolick and Nicole Buak.
A fire scene examination determined the blaze originated at the top of the rear stairway leading to the second-floor apartments, where a chair was ignited.
Police learned Schneider, who lived in an apartment at the building in September 2009, had been cited with disorderly conduct and had been evicted. She had filed a civil complaint against Temborski, police said, for the return of a $790 security deposit. A district judge ruled in favor of Temborski in December 2009.
Police later searched a computer belonging to Schneider, on which they found searches for specific fire investigation information about lighter fluid and how to blow up a car.
Schneider said Monday she expressed sympathy that so much damage was done and that she hoped Lupas would have some mercy in sentencing her because she had no prior record and suffers from a blood disease.
“I wish that none of this ever happened,” Schneider told Lupas.
“I feel extreme relief and happiness for the victims and law enforcement involved,” Assistant District Attorney Shannon Crake said, who prosecuted the case. “This is a serious case that will leave scars on the victims… (they) lost their sense of security.”
Schneider will be required to pay over $1.29 million in restitution to insurance companies.
Trooper James Surmick said Monday that Schneider’s actions were vindictive, spiteful, and violent.
Conyngham fire chief Richard Bognar said, in his 30 years of being a firefighter, the September 2010 blaze is the worst he’s seen.
“It’s an act of God that we got home that night,” he said.
Temborski said Monday that there are no winners at the end of the day, only justice served.
“Now, we can have some closure,” Temborski said.
Buak told the judge she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of the fire.
“(Schneider’s sentence) is better than I expected,” Buak said. “Now, I can move on.”