An occupied residence next to the Theo’s Restaurant parking lot that was set on fire by a suspect who was arrested on Sept. 18. (Brennan Phillips - Penticton Western News)

An occupied residence next to the Theo’s Restaurant parking lot that was set on fire by a suspect who was arrested on Sept. 18. (Brennan Phillips - Penticton Western News)

Penticton man sentenced to time served for arson behind Theo’s Restaurant

Owen Dean Winchester has spent nearly 600 days in jail and said he is clean now

The man who set fire to the building behind Theo’s restaurant in Penticton received time served for the almost 600 days he spent in jail.

Owen Dean Winchester, 32, appeared before the court in Penticton on June 4 to hear his fate after pleading guilty to the charge of arson in relation to inhabited property.

On Aug. 30, 2020 Winchester was caught on surveillance video behind the restaurant at 7:41 a.m., where he was seen striking matches, then bending down behind the dumpsters. After standing up, he looked around for a bit before ducking down again. About two minutes he’s seen running, and then a minute later smoke started rising.

The fire was called in at 7:45 a.m. by a bylaw officer, who spotted the smoke from around the dumpsters.

The fence and dumpsters were next to a residence where a woman lived. She was at home at the time of the fire, and was roused from her bed by a firefighter who told her to quickly collect her pets and important belongings before evacuating.

After evacuating her home, she was treated for smoke inhalation by BC Emergency Health Services.

Less than 10 minutes later, the fire department arrived on scene as the blaze had spread from the fence and garage to the roof of the residence.

Police shared the images of the suspect taken from the surveillance video. Soon after Winchester was identified by the public. The RCMP compared the surveillance footage against previous photos and video they had from a time they previously had Winchester in custody.

After being arrested on Sept. 18, Winchester admitted to being the person in the video, as well as acknowledging that if the fire department hadn’t shown up as quickly as they had the residence would have likely burned down.

Among the aggravating factors cited by the Crown was the timing of the fire, as it fell in the heat of the summer when fire risks are elevated, and the fact the residence was occupied at the time of the arson.

“I’m 11 months sober now, I intend to keep it that way. I have no intentions of doing any drugs in the future and that part of my life is behind me,” Winchester said as he addressed the court. “What I did was by drug use and I’m very terribly sorry for that. I intend to enter society back to the regular world with everybody.”

The joint submission from Crown and Defence called for him to be sentenced for the 588 days he had already spent in custody, followed by a two year probation.

The probation a no-go order for the area where he started the fire, a requirement to live at his parents’ residence in Oliver, a ban on possessing any incendiary devices, and a requirement that he undergo treatment programs for alcohol or substance use.

“It appears you’ve made a good start to your recovery. Your history suggests that this isn’t something that’s been a problem forever, and hopefully you can return to a pro-social life,” said the Justice.

READ MORE: Penticton man accused of arson pleads guilty to breaching release after getting caught with lighter

Winchester was also sentenced separately for breaching his probation terms after being released in 2021, when he was caught with a lighter against his ban. For that he was sentenced to 60 days jail, which was taken out of time served.

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