STERLING – The older of two half-brothers who started a fire that devastated downtown Prophetstown in July was sentenced Tuesday to 5 years of probation.
The boy, now 17, was 16 when he and his 12-year-old half-brother left their father's house in the middle of the night July 15 and set fires in recycling bins around downtown Prophetstown. A fire started behind Cindy Jean's Restaurant spread, destroying eight buildings, damaging two others, and leaving more than half a dozen people homeless.
The fire erupted around 2:30 a.m. in the 300 block of Washington Street, which is the town’s main street and the heart of its historic downtown business district.
The buildings were about 150 years old and housed business such as D’s Variety Store, Twisted Scissors salon, Kim’s Monograms, and the town’s historical society.
Just before being sentenced Tuesday, the boy stood from his seat in the courtroom to offer a statement, the first time he's done so in court.
"I don't really know what to say," he said, breaking down into tears. His mother, father and grandmother, seated on a bench behind him, were crying as well.
"But I'm really sorry for what I did, and I changed my life around, and I'll work as hard as I can to pay everything off," he continued.
As part of his probation terms, the 17-year-old will not be allowed to possess lighters, matches or incendiary devices, nor will he be allowed to have unsupervised contact with his half-brother.
He also will be required to do 200 hours of public service work, and will have a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., when he is not to leave his mother's house without her supervision, except for church-related obligations.
During the sentencing hearing, Whiteside County Assistant State's Attorney Carol Linkowski raised concerns about the boy staying in his mother's care in Wisconsin. Linkowski noted how the boy had seen a psychiatrist to address the issues he was having in school and with his family, and last April was prescribed a medication for the treatment of bipolar disorder.
Linkowski said, and his mother confessed, that in May the boy had stopped taking the medication without his doctor's permission. Free of medication, the boy went to stay with his father for the summer in Prophetstown.
"I'm not a big medicine fan," the boy's mother said. After being questioned by Judge Bill McNeal, she elaborated.
"He wasn't the same person," she said. "He was always tired. He didn't want to do anything. ... After a while, you give up on going to see doctor after doctor after doctor, if they're doing nothing, just giving him the same medication in different doses."
As part of the sentencing terms, McNeal said, the boy must be evaulated by a psychiatrist and a psychologist, in addition to the counseling sessions and anger management courses he's taking.
The boy also will attend another fire safety course with the Oshkosh Fire Department near his home in Wisconsin, McNeal decided.
Linkowski also had expressed concern that the boy had two charges of disorderly conduct and one for arson while living while his mother. But the boy has had no problems since returning to live with his mother in October.
"He's starting to mature," his mother said. "He's starting to become an adult. He's starting to know what life is about."
The younger brother pleaded guilty in January and also was sentenced to 5 years probation.
Sauk Valley Media is not identifying the boys, because they were charged as juveniles.