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Moline Man Pleads Guilty To Malicious Arson Three People Died as a result of Explosion and Fire

January 11, 2008

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. – A Moline, Illinois man whose botched suicide attempt in March 2007 resulted in an explosion and fire in which three people died, pled guilty today to the federal charge of malicious arson resulting in death. William Henry VanDeWoestyne, 41, entered his plea of guilty before U.S. District Judge Michael M. Mihm in federal court in Rock Island, as announced by Rodger A. Heaton, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois. Judge Mihm scheduled sentencing for April 25, 2008 at Rock Island.

Under terms of the plea agreement, which is subject to court acceptance and approval, the U.S. Attorney’s office and VanDeWoestyne agreed that 20 years imprisonment followed by five years supervised release is the sentence to be imposed in this case. Upon acceptance of the plea agreement, the court is bound by this sentencing agreement and thus is required to impose it. However, if the court rejects the agreement on or before April 25, 2008, the case will be set for trial. In addition, the plea agreement states that the court must order VanDeWoestyne to pay restitution to the victims of his offense.

During today’s hearing, and according to the factual basis of the plea agreement, VanDeWoestyne admitted he caused a natural gas explosion and fire during the very early morning hours of March 4, 2007, at a residential condominium at 4341 26th Avenue in Moline, Illinois. As a direct result of the explosion and fire, three building residents died: Lupe R. Irizarry, age 69; William F. Daugherty, age 88; and John M. Hansen, Jr., age 33. VanDeWoestyne, who also resided in one of the building’s 12 units, was injured in the explosion.

VanDeWoestyne admitted that he had manually loosened his unit’s natural gas line to the water heater approximately one week before the explosion and fire, but had reconnected it by hand. VanDeWoestyne further admitted that in an attempt to commit suicide by asphyxiation, he again loosened the natural gas line on the evening of March 3, 2007, allowing natural gas to openly flow into his unit of the building. The unit’s furnace, which had an electronic ignition system, was located next to the hot water heater in the utility closet. Experts suspect that when the furnace’s thermostat engaged, the electronic ignition system ignited the natural gas flowing from the hot water heater’s natural gas line, resulting in the explosion and fire.

The charges are the result of an investigation by the Moline Police Department; Moline Fire Department; East Moline Fire Department; Rock Island County State’s Attorney’s Office; the Illinois State Fire Marshals Office; Rock Island Arsenal Fire Department; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The case is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey B. Lang.

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