A 33-year-old Fort Wayne man will spend 26 years behind bars for an April 2016 incident in which he barged into a home, attacked the people inside and set fire to an upstairs bedroom. In all six people went to the hospital for treatment, including three Fort Wayne Police Department officers who ran into the house to save the man and a hostage that didn't exist.
Justin D. Pease, of the 2000 block of St. Marys Avenue, was sentenced Friday afternoon to serve 26 years of a 30-year term for arson resulting in the serious bodily injury of Officer Boyce Ballinger, who suffered smoke inhalation and was placed in a medically induced coma after he responded to a dispute at 1:45 a.m. April 2, 2016 at the home of Pease's girlfriend.
Pease had shattered a glass sliding door to enter the home and cut, or stabbed, two victims. After police safely evacuated everyone from inside the residence, they ordered Pease, who had barricaded himself inside a second-floor bedroom, to exit. He refused, and a fire began to consume the room. Three officers thought Pease might have another hostage and forced their way into the bedroom and, not finding another hostage, removed Pease from the fire.
The Fort Wayne Fire Department then arrived and extinguished the fire.
Ballinger, who received a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Service Citation in May 2016 for his bravery in entering the burning home, testified Friday about the incident. "It haunts me," he said as he began to tear up. "If I didn't get that door open, I knew whoever was in there was going to die."
Pease, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill last month, received two nine-year suspended sentences for arson resulting in bodily injury — one apiece for Officers Daniel Simpson and Joshua Franciscy — who entered the burning home with Ballinger. They also went to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.
Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred read a letter from Simpson's wife, Shauna, who wrote she received a phone call in the middle of the night and saw her husband lying on a metal table suffering from smoke inhalation. Simpson and his family has since relocated to another city.
Pease also received six years for battering one victim, two years for spitting on a police officer and one year apiece for resisting two law enforcement officers — the terms to be served concurrently to the 30-year term.
Pease rambled while he repeatedly apologized to the victims. He acknowledged he thought someone was in the room with him and was surprised at how fast the fire spread by going up the walls.
"It eats me up," Pease said. "I'm living the nightmare now."
Defense attorney Quinton Ellis said Pease suffers from bipolar, schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder.
Gull dismissed seven charges — including burglary, arson, battery and habitual offender charges — as part of the plea agreement.
"You have altered the course of many people's lives," Gull said.
Pease was ordered to pay $110,716.04 to the police, $70,532.44 to Paragon Subrogation Services and $2,500 to one of the victims.
Pease has 394 days' jail credit.