A man has been sentenced to nine months at a correctional centre for setting fire to the Cona Hostel next to the 5th Street Bridge in Courtenay.
Jacob O’Neil was sentenced Monday at the Courtenay provincial courthouse for arson endangering a life. The 21-year-old pleaded guilty last week to setting the fire on March 23. An estimated 22 hostel occupants vacated the building unharmed.
Judge Ronald Webb imposed an 18-month sentence minus nine months for time served. He recommended that O’Neil serve the time at Guthrie House, a therapeutic community at the Nanaimo Correctional Centre. O’Neil was also placed on probation for three years.
“Hopefully he gets the help he needs,” said Karla Wikjord, who owns the building containing the hostel at 440 Anderton Ave. “Obviously he’s a troubled individual.”
It is not clear why O’Neil set the fire, which broke out around 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 23. Later that day, Comox Valley RCMP had arrested a man believed to have been associated with the hostel fire, and with one or more fires that broke out March 23. It has not been confirmed if the man was O’Neil.
While police were still at the hostel, they had received another call of a fire nearby at Fifth and Fitzgerald. Then, a third call came in about a fire that broke out in the 600-block of Cliffe Avenue. There is no further information about these fires at this time.
Constructed in the 19th century, the Cona Hostel was originally the McPhee Hardware Store on Fifth Street. It was later moved to Anderton Avenue. The building housed Red Cross volunteers in the basement during the First and Second World Wars. It has also served as a funeral parlour, a roofing company, a music store and an art gallery.
The hostel is still sitting in disrepair.
“We’re still waiting for the insurance company to come back to us,” Wikjord said. “We don’t know anything at this point.”