Portola hospital arsonist and two others sentenced
The man convicted of burning down the historic Western Pacific Hospital in Portola will be spending a year in jail.
Eighteen-year-old Harold Ellis Johnson, of Portola, was sentenced Dec. 1 to one year in the county jail and five years of formal probation.
Johnson must register as an arson offender, pay appropriate restitution and undergo counseling as directed by the probation department.
The felony arson conviction is considered a “serious” felony and constitutes a strike under the state’s three-strikes law.
“While obtaining a ‘strike’ conviction on a very young adult is a path we will travel only after deliberate consideration, the inherent dangers of Mr. Johnson’s crime make such a result just and appropriate,” Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister said.
Johnson was responsible for two separate arson fires Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 in Portola. Both fires were ignited about 1 a.m.
The first blaze completely destroyed the 100-year-old hospital.
The hospital was considered a historic landmark. Plans had been in the works to restore the building and make it a library and historical center.
On Sept. 8 Johnson started a second fire near a small grove of trees below Feather River Middle School.
A patrolling deputy spotted the fire and the Portola Fire Department responded in time to extinguish the blaze before it could spread to the vacated school building.
As a result of information received from the community after the fires, Johnson was arrested Sept. 15 by the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office. After his arrest, Johnson reportedly admitted starting the fires and said he acted alone.
Portola resident Charles (C.J.) Benbow was sentenced Dec. 5 to more than seven years in prison.
Benbow pleaded “no contest” to multiple felony counts of sexual misconduct with three minor girls, ages 13 and 14.
The charges included one count of a lewd act on a child and two counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. The lewd act is classified as a “violent felony.”
Benbow, now 19, was charged Jan. 18, 2011.
In addition to the prison sentence, Benbow was ordered to pay numerous fines and fees and register as a sex offender.
“This was a particularly difficult and egregious case on many levels,” Hollister said. “The defendant used his age and position of leadership to select and manipulate these young girls to meet his own selfish desires in a manner where parents and friends would be unknowing and unable to intervene.”
Two men arrested and charged with stealing a trailer in Quincy pleaded “no contest” Dec. 2 to the crime.
Charles Sanford, 47, of Sparks, Nev., and Leith Morrison, 47, of Portola, are expected to be sentenced Dec. 30.
Sanford and Morrison are also suspects in a series of additional burglaries in Lassen and Plumas counties.
The two men each face up to 16 months in the county jail.