A Valley man was convicted of second-degree attempted arson Wednesday.
James E. Hunter, 32, 11407 E. Springfield Ave., was convicted of trying to set a fire next to Halpin’s Pharmacy & Treasure Room last April 10.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 5 in Spokane County Superior Court, said Paul Chase, Spokane Valley fire inspector.
Hunter is also “a person of interest in several other fires set in the summer of 1993,” Chase said. Those fires are still under investigation.
A resident of a neighboring apartment building and his two children said they saw Hunter near the southwest corner of Halpin’s, 11406 E. Sprague, at about 12:45 on the morning of the fire.
Charles Givas and son Ryan, 12, and daughter Haley, 7, said Hunter was trying to light some wood pallets stacked against the building with a lighter.
“We were on the second story, leaning out of the window,” said Charles Givas.
“We saw a bicyclist go to the back of Halpin’s, round up what looked to us like paper or some other material, stuff it between pallets and light it on fire,” he said.
Givas called 911.
Hunter then left the fire for a few minutes and returned as it was dwindling.
He tried to start the fire again when deputies arrived on scene.
“When (Hunter) heard the police car and the (police) dogs barking,” Chase said, “he ran north.”
Deputies took him into custody.
“We found some plastic stuffed in the pallets to burn,” Chase said. “He was using plastic as a sort of kindling.”
“His story was that he stopped to smoke a cigarette and then he came around to burn a love letter,” Chase said.
The fire burned out before deputies arrived and there was no property loss.
“We really feel that the people that observed it stopped what he intended to do,” he said. “There was substantial risk to the apartment and Halpin’s.”
The fire was lit under an electrical panel, Chase said.
“Had it gone on undetected, it probably would have damaged the electrical systems,” he said.
A family was living in an apartment above the store at the time of the fire, said Halpin’s owner Rick Ericksen.
Hunter, who posted bail within three days of his arrest, is out on his own recognizance until his sentencing hearing.