Guilty Plea in Church Fire

Remember the fire in the Church of Christ on Fifth Street back in May? There’s a guilty plea in that fire now, and it’s a bummer of a story. The perp is a 25-year-old deaf, homeless man who broke in to find food because he hadn’t eaten in the past couple of days, Liesel Nowak reports in today’s Progress. Jason Santos had fired up the church’s stove to cook some hamburgers and, while out of the room, a dishtowel caught fire, which started the fire that burned down the entire wing of the church.

Says the church’s Bishop Rufus Hayes, “I feel sorry for the young man.” Santos is in jail without bond, awaiting sentencing in March. He’s facing twenty years in prison.

21 Responses to “Guilty Plea in Church Fire”


  • That seriously sucks. Assuming that this is true then this guy should not get 20 years. Is the church going to stand up for him?

    At the very least, the Bishop ought to put his faith into action and ask the commonwealth’s attorney to drop most of the charges. Barring that, he should testify at the sentencing stage and ask the jury to let him off.

    I would necessarily suggest that if it was a business that had been victimized. But seeing as the victim consists of a Christian church following a bible that instructs them to forgive, to place little importance in wealth and to help the homeless and disabled, circumstances are a little different. I’d like to see exactly what Bishop Hayes’ faith consists of.

  • Business or not, he was just cooking a hamburger (stolen, breaking and entering albeit!). It’s not deliberate arson, unless some lawyer is just spinning a tale.

  • Well Waldo, I usually have no quarrel with your prose but this poor, homeless man, who you labeled a “perp”, recalls to me the practice of the media to report on the hunt for “some guy” and “guy” is not used in a complimentary manner – at least that`s the tone I infer – and then, here comes the point, upon capture, he is immediately decribed as “this gentleman” or Mr. “so-and-so” (again I infer a more respectful title or attitude) .

    I suppose the “perp” decription will be lost at booking. Of course he isn`t a “perp” until conviction, confession or not. Suspect, maybe.

    This comment is germane more to the general media practice that to you but it is, in my opinion, a poor practice.

    I guess I`m a guy until I do something wrong then I am awarded a title.

  • Apologies for the typos.

  • Of course he isn’t a “perp” until conviction, confession or not. Suspect, maybe.

    He confessed, and there’s no reason to suspect that confession was anything less than truthful. He is, in fact, the perpetrator, or “perp.” You may not like the word itself, but it is accurate.

    I’d originally written “suspect,” but that’s simply not correct, given his confession, so I changed it to “perp” prior to posting it.

  • If this man gets prison time, it will be an example of the so-called justice system at its worst, not to mention a waste of tax dollars. They’d be much better off sentencing him to community service – perhaps at the church he accidentally burned down – and getting him into some kind of program to help him find a home and a job, or disability funds.

  • Santos agreed to plead guilty to the breaking and entering as well as petty larceny and the negligent burning of the church.

    That is 31 years possible by my count. 20 for the Breaking and Entering, 10 for the Arson and 12 months for the Larceny (of hamburgers, I guess)

    In Virginia, Sentencing Guidelines are prepared for felonies and submitted to the Judge for review before sentencing. The Judge is not bound to follow them.

    My guess, time served and he will have to pay the Church or its insurance company full restitution. What did they say the amount was 1.6 million?

  • Waldo says: He confessed, and there’s no reason to suspect that confession was anything less than truthful. He is, in fact, the perpetrator, or “perp.” You may not like the word itself, but it is accurate.

    Well you missed the thrust if not the point of my comment but in the spirit if Christmas ………………………………..

  • every story has two sides. what if you are the owner of the church and your insurance company will not pay out the $$ to cover the replacement, unless there is a guilty verdict. i am not proposing that i know that this is the case, i’m just putting this out there to consider.

    i think he should get the book thrown at him. come on, he broke into a church and because of his actions the church burnt down (at least a significant part.)

    a church, not like he broke into riverside to cook some burgers, but a church.

  • But the guy going to prison isn’t going to make up for the fact that the church has burned down. And the bishop of the church has stated that he does not think a long sentence would help. We don’t know what the insurance circumstances are, but clearly the bishop is willing to forgive.

    He broke into the church – but normally when deciding how much time someone should serve, the judge also considers the circumstances that led to the person’s crime. Mr. Santos broke into a church hoping to cook something because he was homeless and hungry. Should we look at his case the same way as we would if he was someone breaking in to steal money to buy drugs?

    Part of the point of the justice system is to punish for committing crimes, but it’s also to help the criminals get on the right track. That’s why prisons have GED programs and work programs; that’s why convicted criminals are often offered lighter or no jail sentences in exchange for community service. Perhaps Mr. Santos needs to be punished, but I don’t see the benefit to anyone in locking him up for 20 years. I still maintain that he could help with the rebuilding of the church, or if nothing else he could plant flowers around it.

  • So Tito, what are you saying, a church is more important than Riverside? They deserve more justice? The atheists among us would disagree. They deserve neither more nor less than any other private property in this country.

  • clearly, i forgot about atheists.

    in all seriousness, regardless of your religious views (pro/anti/atheist/agnostic) you can agree that many people in this country place additional value on buildings of religious importance. that is the only point i was making, not that a ‘church’ is more important than riverside. furthermore, riverside is a building used to make many burgers (what he was supposedly cooking.)

    actually ‘churchs’ and places of worship have a different classification than ‘any private property’ regardless of what you think, should or should not be more deserving. this is demonstrated in the stiffer penalties for burning such buildings, the penalties which our elected officials approved and determined.

  • Tito, there’s a flip side to your “church is more important” argument–they’re “more important” in some people’s eyes because of their mission, which most Christians understand to be the mission of ministering to the most vulnerable members of our society–the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill. you know, like the guy who started the fire. i think it would be ironic if a church forgot this, the central part of its mission.

  • The augmented punishment for burning chruches is there to protect such places from hate speech, not homelss 18 year old looking for a place to crash. I think that breaking into the church is less severe than say the riverside or someones home. Churches are usually empty late at night and you do not run the risk of one getting caught or two running into someone that might hurt you or someone you might have to hurt to get away. The reason he broke in was to sleep not to burn the place down. While this case got a lot of media attention the local circuit courts deal with far more serious crimes daily. If you do not believe me, go over there and sit for a while

  • Is there an extra punishment for churches? I only read the one article in the DP and didn’t see it mentioned. Are you sure that’s in Va. state law? Federal? Federal civil rights criminal law? Does there have to be intent against civil rights? Just asking.

  • Sorry, but I can’t join in the outpouring of sympathy for this criminal. By choosing to break the law he caused over a million dollars in damages. Leaving a dishtowel on a hot stove while he went to look for a television! Was he going to hock it for crack(the story said he was on it)? It would not have looked quite as bad if he had grabbed some food and fled the building. But to act like he a right to be there!!!!…
    And its not like there are not alternatives. There are food banks, soup kitchens,the Salavation Army,etc. He could have gotten help without becoming a criminal. That is an insult to all the poor people throughout the years who despite desperate situations never lowered themselves to steal. I’ve been broke myself at some times in my own life. But I have never burglarized a church or snatched a purse. There are such things as pride and self-respect,and choosing discomfort over dishonor.
    Not saying he should be locked up forever, but he does need to be taken out of circulation. Perhaps he can in fact learn some vocational or other life skills while incarcerated.
    I suppose it will be thought politically incorrect to say this, but I think Charlottesville’s bleedingheart liberal culture is part of the problem when it comes to the issue of so-called homeless people in some instances. Yes, there are some individuals and families that have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, through bad circumstances ,etc. But there are others who through their own actions and decisions,refusal to accept responsibility and consequences,end up on the street and then come looking for someone to feel sorry for them.Become con artists.
    In the old days the authorities simply chased such an element out of town or put them on the chain gang. They were viewed as bums and lowlifes,layabouts was a term used. But nowadays its viewed as society’s fault if someone chooses to engage in self-destructive behavior.
    Help those who are willing to help themselves.But watch out for those who are not. As the old saying goes “they’ll help themselves all right, help themselves to anything they can get their hands on.”Yes, I have known people who have tried to help some of these “street people” or whatever you wish to call them. Invariably they have gotten burned!

  • In the old days the authorities simply chased such an element out of town or put them on the chain gang.

    Or they put them on a plane to Vietnam.

  • iknowcville Says:

    “Or they put them on a plane to Vietnam”

    Possibly true in some cases but a crappy thing to say, especially in connection with chain gangs.. Those men did fight for the USA. I wonder , without malice, if you did – ever.

  • as a devout atheist who loves gusburgers, should I consider the White Spot a place of worship?

  • The chain gang statement was not mine. I was a quote from Hollow Boy and the Vietman reference was a response to his statement, sorry for the confusion. And no, I serve my country and community in other ways

  • iknowcville Says:

    December 24th, 2006 at 1:32 pm
    The chain gang statement was not mine. I was a quote from Hollow Boy and the Vietman reference was a response to his statement, ……..sorry for the confusion…………….

    Me too.

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