Man sentenced for setting fire to Portage building he burglarized
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent March 8, 2013 5:14PM
Updated: March 9, 2013 11:26PM
VALPARAISO — A Portage man said he has no memory of setting fire to a building he burglarized, but for the building owner, it destroyed her memories.
Barbara Suarez’s husband died only a few months prior to when John Michael McKee, 27, set fire to the basement of his office building on March 21, 2012, she said in her victim’s statement Friday.
“I wanted and needed to have all those things you destroyed,” Suarez said just before McKee received a sentence of three years in prison — two, if he can afford the costs of home detention and rent at Respite House halfway house.
McKee, who pleaded guilty on Jan. 15 to Class C felony burglary, didn’t target the former law office of Bill Suarez in the Portage Mall.
He broke into B&R Computers in the basement before setting the fire in there sometime around 7:30 a.m.
Witnesses saw McKee pushing a shopping cart full of electronics west from the scene of the fire, and police located him at Lexington Avenue and Walnut Street about 7:45 a.m.
Police found McKee sitting next to the cart filled with electronics; he had singed hair and a cut hand.
Police matched blood on a smashed window at the fire with DNA from McKee. They also found surveillance video of McKee at a local gas station where he bought a can and a gallon of gasoline.
Barbara Suarez said the fact that he poured gas in three locations in the building shows he knew what he was doing.
And the loss of her husband’s effects put their son further into depression.
McKee’s plea agreement dropped a Class B felony charge of arson, which carried a sentence of up to 20 years, which she thought unfair.
Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa didn’t reject the plea but noted he’s seen too many people using drugs as an excuse for crimes.
“You don’t get any money from burning a building down,” Alexa said. “There’s something else here, but I don’t know what it is.”
The judge also said McKee needs to show proof that he can pay $135 a week for Respite House and the fee for a GPS ankle bracelet before he would be allowed to go to the halfway house.
McKee will also serve three years on probation and pay $9,571 in restitution, not counting the $25,000 damage to the building. He will also serve six months for violating probation on a previous conviction.