Arsonist to serve 5 to 10 years
Aungst set fire to own home while using methamphetamine
HOLLIDAYSBURG — An Altoona man who set fire in June 2019 to his former residence where his marriage fell apart has been sentenced to five to 10 years in prison, followed by 20 years of probation.
“The offenses you’ve committed are very serious,” Blair County Judge Jackie Bernard told Jerret T. Aungst on Thursday, who shook his head in agreement.
Aungst, who acknowledged using methamphetamine when fire destroyed 3816 W. Chestnut Ave., apologized for his behavior and asked for help in dealing with his drug addiction.
The sentence was imposed after he was found guilty in April of arson, risking a catastrophe, burglary, recklessly endangering others and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
The now 39-year-old Aungst will be credited for about two years of time served in county prison since his arrest. Still, he’ll be checking in with a parole or probation office through his 67th birthday.
Defense attorney Christian Kerstetter said he will review the sentence, but he doesn’t expect to file a challenge because it falls within the state’s standard sentencing guidelines.
For a presentence investigation referenced in court, Aungst said he “slightly” remembers lighting the grill at his residence, which was consumed by fire.
“He does not deny what happened … and is taking responsibility,” Kerstetter said.
Bernard told Aungst that he will have opportunities, while in state prison, to participate in drug treatment programs.
“But you have to do the work,” the judge emphasized.
District Attorney Pete Weeks was satisfied with the sentence.
“This was a serious act on Mr. Aungst’s part,” Weeks said. “He burned down his own house, which threatened the property of his neighbors as well as the neighbors. And he raided PennDOT’s headquarters.”
Aungst’s sentence requires him to pay $500 to Chris and Bridget Hammel, as reimbursement for their insurance deductible. When Aungst was on trial in April, Bridget Hammel told the jurors of being awakened during the early morning hours of June 9, 2019, and seeing a fire on the left side of the porch of the Aungst property.
She and her husband and baby got out of their house as the siding was melting, she testified. While Altoona firefighters saved the Hammel residence, Aungst’s house was destroyed.
Police found Aungst inside a vehicle at PennDOT district headquarters along North Juniata Street in Hollidaysburg. While he worked for PennDOT at that time, he wasn’t on duty at the time of the fire.
Inside his vehicle, police found a rosebud torch, a propane tank and an aerosol can. An investigation indicated that the torch was removed from a PennDOT shed.
Aungst was also accused of driving PennDOT vehicles inside the yard.
Kerstetter asked Bernard to consider a mitigated prison sentence of 2.5 years as Aungst’s behavior reflected his methamphetamine use.
“It brought about extreme paranoia, outright delusions,” Kerstetter wrote in a sentencing memorandum presented to the court. “Jerret is at core, a kind-hearted, loving person.”
Weeks told the judge that it became clear during trial that Aungst’s methamphetamine addiction was a factor in his behavior and that it will be a lifelong battle for him.
For the safety of society, his sentence has to include participation in a drug treatment program, Weeks said.
Bernard included that among a list of requirements that require him to refrain from use of illegal drugs, to avoid overt behavior threatening himself or others, to keep up with a vocation or course of study and to perform 100 hours of community service.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.