A man who started a fire that burned down two homes on South Whidbey this past summer was released from jail Wednesday.
Blake Fountain, 49, pleaded guilty in Island County Superior Court Wednesday to reckless burning in the first-degree. It was charged as a domestic-violence-related crime.
Under a plea bargain, the defense and prosecution recommended a 90-day sentence. Judge Alan Hancock agreed and imposed the sentence.
Since Fountain has been in jail since the July 6, 2017 fire, he received credit for time served and was released after a designated mental health professional in the jail ruled that he isn’t a danger to himself or others, according to a jail official.
The issue of restitution was reserved for a later time as the victims were still dealing with their insurance companies, according to Chief Criminal Prosecutor Eric Ohme.
Fountain apologized to the victims in the court and said he understands if they don’t forgive him.
Victims who spoke at the hearing said they were disappointed in the outcome because they wanted Fountain to be in a facility where he could receive treatment for his mental health problems and not pose a danger to the community, according to Ohme.
Ohme said Fountain pleaded guilty to reckless burning under a first-time offender waiver because that requires him to be supervised by the state Department of Corrections for a year. In addition, he has to get a psychological evaluation within 21 days of release and follow up with any recommended counseling and medication.
Fountain was originally charged with arson in the first degree, a more serious crime, but Ohme concluded he couldn’t prove the charge.
Under a reckless burning charge, the prosecution had to prove Fountain knowingly and recklessly started the fire. Under an arson charge, he would have had to prove that Fountain knowingly and maliciously started the fire.
A report by a psychologist at Western State Hospital casts doubt on whether Fountain acted maliciously. The psychologist concluded that Fountain suffered from diminished capacity at the time of the offense. She wrote that “the acute symptoms of psychosis directly informed” Fountain’s decision to start the fire and he did not do so in a malicious manner.
She also concluded that, under state law, he was insane at the time of the offense because his ability to tell right from wrong was significantly impaired.
The defense’s expert came to the same conclusion.
In court, Judge Hancock said the prosecution wouldn’t have been able to prove arson with the two experts agreeing that Fountain did not act with malicious intent.
“The law is an imperfect instrument of justice,” he said.
Ohme said it was clear to him from the beginning of the case that Fountain “was in the grips of psychosis” when he lit a house on fire.
“As a prosecutor, it is natural to want to exact punishment that is commensurate to the pain and anguish caused by the defendant’s actions,” he said. “Things are not always so simple. As the court is well aware, the state has the burden to not only prove someone’s actions but also their mental state in performing those actions.”
Fountain burned down Lynn and Roger Vehorns’ Useless Bay Colony home on the morning of July 6 after living in the house for about nine months, according to police reports. The ensuing fire, which reduced the Vehorns’ house to rubble, also destroyed the home of the Vehorn’s next-door neighbor. A third house suffered a broken window. Nobody was injured by the fires.
Fountain told paramedics at the scene that he had intended to go back inside the house to commit suicide, the police report states.
In the weeks leading up to the fire, Fountain exhibited increasing paranoia and delusional ideations, according to the mental health report.
A few days before the fire, Fountain was taken to the emergency room at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center after exhibiting odd behavior and claiming that someone was trying to place bombs at his work. He didn’t receive a mental health evaluation and was sent home with antibiotics for an ear infection.
His symptoms became progressively worse over the next days.
On the night before the fire, Fountain stayed awake, praising God with his hands in the air in an attempt to stop the battle he thought was going on between God and the devil.
“He reported feeling responsible for finding a way to stop the battle and eventually had a dream and likely auditory hallucination that he must set the house on fire in order to stop this battle and to prevent the suffering of others,” the psychologist wrote.
Fountain was arrested at the scene of the fire.