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Tuchek sentenced to six years in prison

Fri, Dec 20th, 2002
Posted in Features

Former Lanesboro Police Chief John Tuchek was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $800,000 in restitution to the victims of the arson fire he set in Lanesboro on April 7, 2002. Tuchek was also ordered to have no contact with his victims or the people of Lanesboro while he is under the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.Tuchek was convicted of eight counts of first degree arson for setting a “hero” fire behind the Little River General Store so that he could rescue his ex-girlfriend from an apartment in the building. But the fire became so hot that it broke a seal on a gas line and the fire spread to adjacent buildings.The sentence was handed down by Judge James Fabian in Fillmore County District Court on Monday, December 16, bringing an end to an ordeal to what Fabian called “a heroic fire turned horrific.”Calling Tuchek’s accounts of the events of April 7 “incredible”, Judge Fabian upwardly departed from the 48 months that the sentencing guidelines call for a conviction for one count of first degree arson. Fabian said there were substantial and compelling reasons to depart upward. The judge cited the fact that Tuchek violated his trust as a police officer as well as the fact that the fire endangered multiple victims, including vulnerable children. Fabian also said that Tuchek invaded the victims’ zone of privacy at a time of day when most of them were asleep.Tuchek was ordered to serve 48 months in prison with another 24 months served under supervised release. Victims of the fire testified at the sentencing, including Sarah Quick and Rod Cochrum who both lived in apartments on the second floor of the burning buildings. Barbara Wilford, co-owner of the Vis Plumbing Building and Jeff St. Mane, who owned two of the buildings affected, also testified in court. In addition, letters from Tanja Dubois, who lived with her family above the Ford building, and Anessa Dawley, Tuchek’s ex-girlfriend, were read in court. Many of the victims expressed the need for Tuchek to seek counseling. Sarah Quick told the court that “Tuchek’s actions led her to believe that he is mentally ill.” She hoped that he would receive counseling while in prison.Barbara Wilford told the court that Tuchek’s actions had set her family back both emotionally and financially. Describing her family’s life since April 7 as a “rollercoaster ride”, Wilford said, “Our lives will never be the same.” She urged the court to apply the maximum sentence.Describing the effort to rebuild his life as “exhausting”, Rodney Cochrum talked about the things he lost in the fire. Holding up a round metal ball that he said was all that remained of a brass bed that belonged to his mother, Cochrum said, “I’ve lost those things that connect you to family that can’t be replaced.”Cochrum told the court that he couldn’t believe that Tuchek would endanger the lives of others to make a statement.“If you’re not safe in your bed at 11:00 at night, where are you safe? he asked. Jeff St. Mane, reading a statement prepared by his wife Mary, told about growing up in the buildings that were destroyed on April 7. He also described his family’s efforts over the past year to restore the buildings, which were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.St. Mane spoke for many of the victims when he told the court that Tuchek had not fully accepted responsibility for his actions, which led to the destruction of “half a city block.” A faxed letter from Anessa Dawley was read in court. Dawley stated that Tuchek’s actions have changed her life forever. “I am haunted by this man’s image. I feel like a hunted criminal,” she wrote. Prosecuting Attorney Peter Orput called upon the court for a “double departure” upward, citing the need to hold Tuchek accountable for all of the results of his actions. Defense Attorney Mark Kurzman called for “rational sentencing” and asked the court for a stay of execution so that the “victims can get meaningful restitution.” Kurzman said that Tuchek never intended to burn down the buildings and that the defendant helped investigators solve the crime. John Tuchek spoke on his own behalf before sentencing. “I am sorry to the people of Lanesboro and to the people who lost things in the fire I started. That’s all,” Tuchek told the court. Tuchek showed no reaction during the proceedings, nor when Judge Fabian handed down the sentence. Following Judge Fabian’s sentencing order, Defense Attorney Kurzman notified the court that the defense would be appealing the case to the Court of Appeals and asked that the defendant be released pending appeal.Fabian denied the request for Tuchek’s release and remanded him over to the Commissioner of Corrections to begin serving his sentence.

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