Feelings mixed for Autumn Hills firestarters | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Feelings mixed for Autumn Hills firestarters

Rob Bhatt

Ross Sidebottom gave Jason Williamson a tour of his damaged Autumn Hills Drive home when the young man came over in April to apologize about starting the fire last June 23.

Sidebottom wished the young man well before Williamson left to make apologies to other neighbors.

“I wanted to show him what it’s cost us in human grief,” Sidebottom said of his meeting with one of the two boys responsible for starting the Autumn Hills Fire of 1996.

On nearby Jeannie Lane, Vernon Fix said he had no desire to meet with either of the youths who touched off the blaze.

“I’m not sure what it would have accomplished,” he said.

The reactions of the fire’s most immediate victims remain varied toward the two teen-agers who started the blaze one year ago today.

“We were bored, and we didn’t know what to do,” Williamson’s accomplice, Sean Bell, would later say in court. “We caught a lizard and decided to light it on fire.”

Jolaine Johnson, whose family lived in one of the four homes destroyed, does not hold the boys personally responsible for what happened to her house. Her family did not request an apology.

“The boys made a very serious mistake,” said Johnson, the mother of two sons herself. “Unfortunately, it was very consequential. But we never blamed the boys for our house burning down. We distinguish (their actions) from someone (intentionally) lighting our house on fire. They made a mistake that started a fire, and unfortunately, nature took its course.”

Scott Cook, Douglas County’s chief juvenile probation officer, estimated only between 10 to 20 residents within the burn area requested personal apologies and a similar number requested written apologies.

He also said the boys and their families appear to be meeting the sentencing terms.

Williamson’s family rented the Autumn Hills Drive home at the fire’s origin last year but have since moved.

Bell is reportedly fulfilling his obligations under the supervision of probation supervisors in Oregon, where his family lives.

Efforts to contact the boys through their attorneys were unsuccessful.

“(Bell) wants to put this behind him,” said Bell’s attorney, Tod Young. “It’s an unfortunate incident in a good young man’s life.”

Williamson’s attorney, William Maddox, did not return a phone call placed to his Carson City office last week.

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