Crime

Mother gets year in prison for setting Whatcom home on fire

A suspected serial arsonist accused of lighting her house on fire while her daughter slept inside must spend a year and a day in prison, a Whatcom County judge ruled Thursday, Aug. 20.

Casey Ann Evans, 38, started a fire outside her home north of Bellingham in May 2015, according to charging papers. Her 12-year-old daughter was inside at the time but was unhurt by the fire, which was promptly put out by investigators who had set up surveillance on the house.

Evans was charged with first-degree arson but pleaded guilty to second-degree arson in July. The plea entered was an Alford plea — she maintained her innocence but took advantage of the plea bargain, understanding prosecutors may prove her guilt in trial.

The standard sentencing range was three to nine months, but Whatcom County Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis adopted an exceptional sentence of 12 months and a day behind bars followed by 18 months probation.

A Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy and fire marshal’s office investigator set up outside Evans’ house the night of May 5 while investigating a series of small fires that occurred in April. Evans was the first person to report the fires and, when mapped out, the fires formed a circle around the house Evans was renting, 3195 Locust Ave., according to charges filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.

The investigators noticed a pattern that night: Evans repeatedly left her front door and walked down a narrow alley by her house to a small, covered area outside the house. She carried a flashlight, but the investigators noticed an additional flickering light coming from the area, possibly from a lighter, accompanied by the smell of burning paper, charges say.

This went on for about an hour. Then, the investigators noticed the flickering light appear to grow, and the sheriff’s detective moved closer and saw that the house had been set on fire. Evans was walking away from the flames, charges say.

The detective stopped Evans, who appeared “like a deer in headlights,” according to the charges. The flames grew several feet high, and the fire investigator arrived and extinguished the flames.

The investigators found a glass half-full of white wine and a hair product labeled “extremely flammable” in the covered area where Evans set the fire, according to charges. They also found a lighter in her pocket.

Evans was given a portable breath test and blew a 0.235 blood alcohol content, nearly three times the legal limit for driving, charges say.

Since her arrest, her two children have been staying with their father, Nick Evans. Casey and Nick have been separated since 2007 and are in the process of getting divorced, according to court records.

Jill Evans, the grandmother of their children, has been cleaning out Casey Evans’ house the last several months. In a court declaration, she described a house that likely hadn’t been taken care of long before the fires started — vomit in a sink that was covered up, bottles of alcohol packing closets and cabinets, and a mattress that had been moved to the living room because a dead squirrel was in the bedroom.

At her sentencing hearing, prosecuting attorney Jonathan Richardson referred to “ongoing issues” that justified the plea to a lesser charge. He said later that Evans has never been diagnosed with any mental illness, but she must undergo a mental health evaluation as part of her sentence.

Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or wilson.criscione@bellinghamherald.com.

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