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Man gets prison for Superior arson fires

Joseph Francisco Insua

A Superior man was sentenced Wednesday in Douglas County Circuit Court to nine years in prison for setting a string of fires in 2016 in Superior.

Joseph Francisco Insua, 27, pleaded no contest Sept. 6 to two counts of arson of a building without owner's consent, second-degree recklessly endangering safety and one count arson of property other than a building. He was sentenced to consecutive prison terms totaling nine years in prison and nine years of extended supervision and ordered to pay at least $3,974.22 restitution. The restitution amount was left open to allow the owner of the apartment building that was damaged time to file a claim.

An additional count of arson of property other than a building and one count of obstructing an officer were dismissed but read in for sentencing.

Superior Fire Department crews responded to numerous fires the evening of June 21, 2016, including an apartment fire in the 1200 block of Banks Avenue, a couch on fire in a nearby alley, a pile of cardboard set on fire at Walmart and a dumpster fire at the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe rail yard.

"I've been doing this 24 years and that's as unusual as it gets," Battalion Chief Scott Gordon told the Telegram following the fires. "Our city's system was taxed. That was as much firefighting as we've done in a decade."

He said the fire department had to call in off-duty firefighters and was on the brink of calling on the Duluth Fire Department as part of its mutual aid agreement, something it has not had to do in Gordon's memory.

Although many lives were in danger, District Attorney Mark Fruehauf told the court Wednesday, no one was hurt.

Cory Jay Bonneville, who owned the building the couch was leaning against, said in a victim impact statement that damage to the building, which housed 20 people, was minimal only because quick-acting neighbors moved the burning sofa away from the building.

Insua had no prior record.

His attorney, Chris Gramstrup, said the issue was mental health-related. There was no identifiable motive, he told the court, and Insua expressed responsibility and remorse.

"There is certainly a mental health component to the incident, but there was dispute about whether that was the cause, so to speak, of the crimes," Fruehauf said following the sentencing. "I pointed out to the judge that the crimes were committed at night, while the defendant was dressed in black, wearing a bandana to cover his face and setting fires in somewhat concealed or secluded areas."