Did you know that “causing a catastrophe” can be a felony offense? Of course, catastrophe, in this instance, doesn't mean things like forgetting to bring the green bean casserole to your family's Thanksgiving dinner, causing Aunt Kathy to drink too much wine and burn the turkey. It's more like freaking out about a cockroach in a motel room, possibly being under the influence of a controlled substance, setting fire to a motel bed, and shouting, “I hope everyone dies in this place!”
That's exactly what one Russell Hess III, 50, of Hamburg, PA, did in September while staying at the America's Best Value Inn in Potsdam. Although one section of the hotel building was “engulfed in flames,” according to authorities, there were no injuries to the 40 other motel guests or the staff.
Charges and Sentences
Hess was originally charged with 86 felony arson-related counts, in addition to numerous misdemeanors. Prosecutors offered to dismiss those charges if Hess pleaded guilty to a felony charge of “causing a catastrophe,” which he agreed to do.
On September 21, Judge Thomas M. DelRicci sentenced Hess to 11 ½ to 23 months in Montgomery County jail, with credit for time served and three years' probation.
Additionally, he ordered Hess to pay restitution of $237,372 for the damage caused to the hotel.
What Is Restitution?
Separate from attorney fees or court costs, restitution refers to compensation for loss or damage incurred by victims of crime. Restitution is usually ordered as a condition of probation and can be either full or partial. It does not include monetary damages for pain and suffering.
The payment of restitution must begin immediately after sentencing.
How Does Restitution Work?
Few defendants are able to pony up the total amount of restitution, so they are generally placed on a payment schedule. If they are incarcerated, 25% of any income they generate in jail, and 25% of all money given to them by relatives or friends, is earmarked for restitution. If they do not do time, they will pay a monthly amount toward their restitution, just as they do with any other kind of financial obligation.
Should the person stop paying restitution, they risk violating their probation. Wage garnishment is another outcome in which a percentage of their paycheck goes directly to the county.
How A Lawyer Can Help With Restitution
Restitution can represent significant hardship on the part of a defendant. An attorney's services are invaluable to avoid having to pay restitution or petition the court for a change in one's payment schedule.
To discuss your case with attorney Joseph D. Lento, click here or call our office at 888-535-3686. The team at the Lento Law Firm can help!