BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – A federal judge sentenced Steve “Boo” Pritchard to 30 years in prison for setting a house fire on June 30, 2011 that led to the death of Columbia firefighter Charles Sparks.
In federal court Wednesday morning, Judge Greg N. Stivers said he found little reason for reducing the recommended sentence for Pritchard based on his character and his life history.
Pritchard’s attorney, Donald Meier, argued that Pritchard’s sentence should be based on the fact that he did not intentionally take a life. Sparks died after suffering a heart attack and was not actually injured from the fire, Meier noted.
While Judge Stivers made several comments that suggested he agreed that Sparks’ death was not intentional nor something that could have been foreseen, in his final decision he said there needs to be a clear message that if someone sets a fire for greed and something happens to a firefighter, “they could spend the rest of their lives in prison.”
During the trial, testimony was given that Pritchard bragged about setting a number of house and auto fires. Stivers said it would be an insult to anyone’s intelligence to expect them to believe the house and vehicle fires that Pritchard supposedly bragged about setting were a coincidence.
Had Sparks not died in the house fire in 2011, Stivers said he did not believe the case would have been as thoroughly investigated as it was. As a result, Pritchard would have continued a trail of setting fires and putting lives in danger.
Assistant United States Attorney David Weiser urged the judge to consider a life sentence for Pritchard.
“Everybody knew what happened to Charles Sparks and he was bragging about the fire,” Weiser said. “He is not entitled to leniency.”
Pritchard sat silently during the sentencing hearing but became emotional when his niece, Whitney Clark, spoke on his behalf.
She credited Pritchard as someone who helped guide her in life and said she would not be around had he not been there for her.
“I would pray there would be some kind of mercy,” she said. “I don’t want to go the rest of my life without him.”
Pritchard’s sister also spoke briefly on his behalf. Pritchard apparently made a last-minute decision to not make a statement. His attorney paused for him to speak but he shook his head no.
Sparks’ mother, Helen Sparks, spoke to the judge about their only son. She attended the hearing with her husband, Charles, and her daughter-in-law, Tammy.
She said her son was a good boy who grew up into a fine man who wanted to help others.
“Our lives have never been the same since the early morning hours of June 30, 2011,” she said. We miss Charles every day and we will always love him.”
Sparks suffered a heart attack while fighting the fire and died eight days later. In July, a jury found Pritchard guilty of committing an arson that directly or proximately caused the death of a public safety officer. He was also convicted of mail fraud.
Pritchard’s girlfriend at the time and later his wife, Brandi Waggener Pritchard, has already pleaded guilty to arson and mail fraud and testified on behalf of the defense. Brandi Pritchard expects to receive a reduced sentence recommendation from the U.S. Attorney’s office because of her cooperation. She is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 13.
Brandi Pritchard rented the house, located at 3043 Liberty Rd., when firefighters were called to the scene at 3:05 a.m. on June 30, 2011.
Brandi Pritchard obtained renter’s insurance for $50,000 in coverage just days before the fire. She admitted during testimony that she falsified some items and exaggerated the value of others to collect the full claim. She never admitted to setting the fire while on the stand and insisted she told Steve Pritchard not to set it.
In addition to the sentencing, Pritchard and Brandi Pritchard will share the responsibility of paying more than $107,000 in restitution to the insurance company.
By Sharon Burton