Legislation sponsored by Senator John Rafferty (R-44) to significantly strengthen Pennsylvania’s arson laws and create the new crime of “aggravated arson” has been sent to the Governor to be signed into law.
Rafferty worked with Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9), Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, and community 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.
“It’s unconscionable to set fire to a building knowing that someone is inside,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9). “The tragedies in Coatesville showed that our arson laws needed to be strengthened. I’m very pleased that the Governor will soon be able to sign this legislation, which will ensure that the punishment fits the crime for those who commit arson. I congratulate Senator Rafferty and District Attorney Hogan for all the work they’ve done to make this happen.”
Rafferty said the Coatesville arsons demonstrated that arson is not just a form of insurance fraud, but a deadly and costly crime that kills innocent people, puts emergency responders in harm’s way and can devastate neighborhoods and communities.
“Criminals who deliberately set fires that can kill people must face tougher penalties,” Rafferty said. “This legislation recognizes the severity of this crime and sends a clear message to those who endanger property and life by committing arson.”
Senate Bill 1024 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 intention.
“What happened in Coatesville could happen again in any community – so we need to take action to prevent more needless death and destruction,” Rafferty said. “I am pleased that Pennsylvania is taking a stand against this deadly crime and those who commit it.”