ROCK FALLS – Efforts are under way to fix up the dilapidated, fire-damaged home that once belonged to Ronald Halgren, city officials said Tuesday.
The city sold the home at 812 Ave. A to Richard Finnicum, owner of American Construction in Sterling, for $450 on Dec. 9.
The next day, Halgren entered an Alford plea – meaning he didn't accept guilt but admitted that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him – on an arson charge in Whiteside County Court.
He was sentenced to 6 months jail, which he has served, and 4 years of probation. He also must pay $2,836.09 in restitution and undergo a mental health evaluation.
About 8 a.m. July 16, police and firefighters responded to the fire that had started in the basement and spread to the rear of the first and second floors, causing moderate fire and major smoke damage.
No one was home when firefighters arrived, but a neighbor reported seeing Halgren there earlier that morning.
That night, Halgren was arrested during a traffic stop in Sycamore. Officers said they found a rifle, pistol, and ammunition in his car, and was charged with two counts of unlawful use of weapons and possession of weapons without a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card, a misdemeanor.
He has a status hearing March 6 in that case.
Halgren also was charged with two counts of aggravated battery of a peace officer in Whiteside County after deputies say he threw a tray of food at an officer while in the jail. Those charges have been dropped.
The 71-year-old has battled with the city for years over his refusal to remain connected to city utilities and to keep his yard free of refuse, as required by city code. The house was condemned in 2005 and again in 2009.
In August 2011, the city foreclosed on the house, then bought it at public auction in December for $29,500, presumably to recoup money Halgren owes for back taxes, fines, and court fees.
Halgren was paid $15,000 of that for a homestead exemption.
City Building Inspector Mark Searing said the city gave Finnicum 15 months to get the house back up to code. Usually, the buyer is given a year, Searing said.
"There was so much fire damage and so much hoarding in the house that we gave them extra time to get that cleared out," Searing said.
Finnicum had the majority of the trash cleared out by Jan. 1 and is now removing burned walls, Searing said.