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By MARY SCHENK
For Rantoul Press
URBANA — A man who intentionally set a fire in a Rantoul mobile home that left his friend dead and a firefighter injured was sentenced Friday to 11 years in prison.
Brandon A. Young, 21, who told authorities he was homeless, pleaded guilty Friday in Champaign County Circuit Court to aggravated arson.
The charge alleged that Rantoul Fire Capt. Dean McMorris was injured while fighting the fire that Young set. Because there was personal injury, Young will have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence, or just over nine years. He will also have to register with the state as a convicted arsonist, according to his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jamie Propps.
The state’s attorney’s office agreed to file no charges against Young in connection with the death of his friend, William Shawn Richardson, 21.
Young admitted that on the afternoon of Aug. 22, he set a fire in a recently vacated mobile home in the Heritage Estates mobile-home park, 1211 Cypress Lane.
The fire destroyed that mobile home, damaged another nearby and killed Mr. Richardson, but his body wasn’t recovered until about two weeks later when a Rantoul police officer was examining the scene and could smell the odor of decaying flesh.
Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Weber said McMorris, 53, of Rantoul, suffered injuries to his knee, shin and ankle when he fell through the floor of the mobile home while trying to put out the fire. McMorris was able to pull himself out of the burning mobile home, according to Fire Chief Ken Waters.
Firefighters got the fire call at 4:57 p.m. and found flames throughout, with the worst being in the middle. After McMorris went through the floor, they fought the fire from the outside only.
Rantoul police later learned that Young and Mr. Richardson, who had been drinking vodka earlier in the day, went in the recently vacated house and began vandalizing it. Weber said Young was in the living room piling up items to set fire to, while Mr. Richardson was in a back bedroom punching holes in the walls. A witness could hear the sounds of the walls being hit, she said.
Weber said Young set fire to a couch, which rapidly spread to the rest of the home. Mr. Richardson was in the back bedroom, and the only way out for him, she said, would have been through the center room where Young set the fire.
A witness heard a person run out and say, “Dude, get out of there,” Weber said.
Young was arrested in the neighborhood about a half-hour after the fire was started. He smelled of alcohol and had black soot on his face, neck and hands. Weber said he did not mention Mr. Richardson to police.
It wasn’t until Sept. 4 when Rantoul police Officer Kevin Kaiser was at the home investigating that he smelled a distinctive odor and discovered Mr. Richardson’s body.
Weber, who went to the scene with another prosecutor, said she understood why firefighters initially missed him.
“Everything was black and soot-covered. He was partially covered by a mattress and material that fell from the ceiling. I understand why it would take the odor to bring it to anyone’s attention,” she said.
Weber said Young acted in disbelief when told about Mr. Richardson’s death and said he had no intention of killing his friend.
She said it was the decision of the state’s attorney’s office not to file any criminal charges related to Mr. Richardson’s death.
The aggravated arson charge alleging the injuries to McMorris — including a torn meniscus in his knee — is a Class X felony. The maximum he could have received was 30 years. Another count alleging arson, a less serious offense, was dismissed in return for his plea. Weber said Young’s only prior conviction was for misdemeanor battery.
Waters said McMorris is re-covering from his leg injuries.