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State seeks enhanced sentence for South Albany arson suspect

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Zachary Lee Burghart

Zachary Lee Burghart

ALBANY — The Linn County District Attorney’s Office intends to seek an enhanced sentence for Zachary Burghart, the man accused of burning down a building at South Albany High School before dawn on April 1.

Burghart, 28, of Albany, is charged with three counts of first-degree arson and one count of failure to perform the duties of a driver.

The state wants a longer than normal prison term for Burghart because he was on probation for a similar crime at the time of the fire, and because of the extent of the harm caused by the fire, according to a notice filed April 9 by Prosecutor Michael Wynhausen.

Burghart, a Navy veteran who reportedly has post-traumatic stress disorder, was on probation for a series of arson fires set in the Scio area in the fall of 2014.

Even without an enhanced sentence, he could face a lengthy stint in prison.

First-degree arson can be a Measure 11 crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years and six months in prison, if there is the threat of serious physical injury to others.

The maximum penalty for first-degree arson is 20 years in prison.

Burghart remains in the Linn County Jail on $500,000 bail.

A status check and probation violation hearing for him, initially set for Monday, has been rescheduled for May 18 at the request of his attorney, according to Oregon’s online court database.

According to court documents, Burghart told police detectives that he tossed a burning cigarette into a Dumpster to start the South Albany fire. Court documents also indicate that he admitted to police that he set fire to a travel trailer in the 1500 block of Del Rio Avenue S.E. The fire caused propane tanks in the trailer to explode the same morning as the South Albany fire.

In addition, Burghart allegedly struck a camper with his vehicle on April 1 and drove away.

The 25,000 square foot South Albany High School building that was destroyed housed the district’s main kitchen, as well as South Albany’s cafeteria, band and choir rooms, and child development classrooms.

Rebuilding the structure could cost nearly $11 million, not including classroom materials and equipment.

In the aftermath of the blaze, several community businesses and organizations rallied to hold fundraisers for South Albany. Journey drummer Deen Castronovo gave $10,000 to the school to purchase band equipment.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard. 

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