Washougal woman who burned home gets 4 months in jail

Judge calls her an 'outstanding person' who did bad thing

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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Sentencing this arsonist was challenging, a Clark County judge said Tuesday, because the Washougal woman had no criminal history and support of family and friends, who described her as a model mother and citizen.

"Here we have, by all accounts, an outstanding person who did a horrible, horrendous thing," Clark County Superior Court Judge Scott Collier said.

Collier sentenced Billinda Jantzer -- a 51-year-old woman who set her house ablaze in 2011 while facing a pending divorce and foreclosure -- to four months in jail.

Jantzer's attorney, Gerry Wear, had asked the judge to give his client a far more lenient sentence. But Collier decided to not give a sentence exceptionally below the sentencing range of three to nine months, saying he didn't want to send a message that a person in a stressful situation is above the law.

"I don't think you're a bad person," Collier said, addressing Jantzer. "However, the gravity of this act was substantial."

Jantzer, initially charged with first-degree arson in connection with the Jan. 12, 2011, fire, accepted a deal to plead guilty Aug. 13 to second-degree arson.

Much of the sentencing hearing centered on Jantzer's tumultuous divorce, which led her to start the fire in a suicide attempt. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Alan Harvey said the blaze was substantial -- Jantzer had soaked the inside of the home with gasoline.

About 20 firefighters responded to the fire at 530 S.E. Blair Road. A large plume of smoke was reported as the call came in, and firefighters arrived to find the rear of the home engulfed in flames.

Her grown son, concerned over a grim text message that Jantzer sent

him just before the fire, rushed to the house and rescued her. No one was hurt.

Jantzer said she was distraught after getting behind in mortgage payments. Her estranged husband, Jon, had filed a motion with the court to get her out of the house that month.

"I want to say I'm sorry," she told the judge. "I was in a very bad place."

She talked about her marriage, which she called controlling, and the nasty divorce proceedings that have transpired. The divorce case is pending.

"I'm not a bad person," she added.

Collier said: "I don't think you are a high risk to re-offend … I don't think you're a danger to the community." But, he added, she had to be held accountable.

Laura McVicker: http://twitter.com/col_courts;http://facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.