Woman convicted in Kane arson heads to state prison

Photo by Ted Lutz — Wearing shackles and an orange county jail garment, Holly Gausman enters the McKean County Courthouse in Smethport for sentencing Thursday on charges linked with a 2014 arson in Kane. A jury convicted the woman of six felonies in the case. County Court President Judge John Pavlock sentenced Gausman to a minimum of 27 months in state prison.
Ted Lutz
Staff Writer

SMETHPORT — A woman convicted of setting fire to her Kane home in 2014 has been sentenced to state prison.
Holly Lynn Gausman, 44, of Grampian in Clearfield County was sentenced to serve between 27 months and 84 months in state prison.
McKean County Court President Judge John Pavlock handed down the sentence Thursday in proceedings at the county courthouse in Smethport. The sentence includes five years of probation and other stipulations.
The judge also ordered the defendant to pay more than $347,280 in restitution to Erie Insurance. 
In lieu of $25,000 cash bail, Gausman has been in the McKean County Jail near Smethport since her conviction in a three-day jury trial. She will receive 44 days of credit on her prison term for the time spent at the county jail.
A jury convicted Gausman of setting fire to her house at 432 Tionesta Ave. in Kane in 2014.
She was convicted of six felony charges, including:
• One count of arson that put first-responders in danger of death or bodily injury. At least 40 volunteer firemen from Kane, Mt. Jewett and Wilcox responded to the blaze on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. The Highland Township Volunteer Fire Department also was called to "stand by" at the Kane Fire Hall.
• One count of arson to gain insurance proceeds. According to testimony and court documents, Erie Insurance paid Gausman $347,280.03 for the claim.
• Two counts of conspiracy to commit arson. Her mother, Karen Hatten, 63, of Brockway, earlier this year pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the case and served five months in the McKean County Jail.
• A count of insurance fraud.
• A count of theft by deception.
McKean County District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer, the prosecutor for the case, issued the following statement Thursday.
"No sentence can truly respond to the severity of this particular case.  
"The testimony at the trial was that the defendant wanted to move with her children out of the county, but believed she had to create an emergency to justify violating her custody order by relocating without the father's permission and she needed money.  
"One witness testified that the defendant initially tried to start the fire with a space heater, but the heater shut off so she then used a candle to start a fire in the upstairs bathroom.  
"After a period of time, she re-entered the bathroom to make sure the fire was taking off before she drove away and waited for someone to see flames and call 911. 
"The risk to firefighters in every fire is often overlooked and under-appreciated. Kane Fire Chief Tim Holt testified to the danger the firemen faced. 
"Initially, first-responders went into the home to make sure no one was trapped inside. Then the rest of the firemen entered to extinguish the fire. "The fire grew in intensity before the firemen were ultimately able to extinguish the fire. "Fortunately for the surrounding properties, the firemen were nearby at the fire station preparing for their largest fundraiser that was to occur the next day.  
"The defendant's actions were motivated by financial and personal greed, but the risk was the risk of serious injury or death to the firemen. "Firefighters and all first-responders sacrifice themselves every day for the rest of us when we face horrendous circumstances such as a fire in our homes. They should not have to be put in risk by someone's intentional actions. 
"The judge has to consider the sentencing guidelines created by the legislature in setting a sentence.  
"The Commonwealth requested a sentence with a higher minimum and maximum but the court's sentence is within the standard range."  

For full article, check the Dec. 14, 2018 printed or e-edition of The Kane Republican