- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

Serial arsonist Thomas A. Sweatt knows he will spend the rest of his life in prison after his sentencing last week for 45 fires in the Washington area. But for many of his victims, home is still an uncertainty.

Anita Kyler, 94, Sweatt’s first known victim, is still not back in her Southeast home, which was torched March 8, 2003. She pays $800 a month to rent an apartment at a senior center while repairs continue.

“My mom has almost depleted all of her savings trying to keep the house intact. She says she feels like she is an airplane going from place to place,” daughter Jean Kyler said.

The Northeast home that Lou Edna Jones, 86, and her family lived in for more than 50 years is still boarded up from the fire that claimed her life June 5, 2003. Her son, Eddie Jones, said he never felt so helpless as when he stood and watched the top of his mother’s house burn.

U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow said victim-impact statements revealed that all felt a loss of personal security — and many were still facing the loss of financial security as their family’s biggest asset went up in flames. Judge Chasanow sentenced Sweatt to life plus 136 years and ordered the fast-food restaurant manager to reimburse victims for costs not covered by insurance. But she warned that it is unlikely they will ever collect, comparing their suffering to what happened with Hurricane Katrina.

“You had disruption equivalent to the Gulf Coast, but each of you faced that displacement alone,” Judge Chasanow told victims.

Meanwhile, members of the Arson Task Force hope Sweatt’s life sentence will “foster healing for all in our community.”

“We are so sorry for their losses,” said task force head Theresa Stoop, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

She said investigators have made improvements in everything from the way they set up files to how they vet leads. Driver’s license checks among Maryland, Virginia and the District are easier. Likewise, databases and records in each jurisdiction are easier to search.

“My hope is the fact that we did solve this case allows the community to have more confidence in the expertise that surrounds them,” Miss Stoop said.

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