Probation ordered for T-Bone's owner in arson conviction
By MIKE CORN
The owner of a bar and grill heavily damaged by fire in October will spend the next two years on community corrections.
Benjamin Michael "Mike" Butler pleaded no contest less than a month ago to a single felony charge of aggravated arson in connection with the fire. The charge was considered aggravated because there was a person in the building at the time the fire broke out.
Butler was sentenced to an underlying term of 18 months in prison, but because the state's sentencing guidelines call for the presumption of probation given Butler's criminal background, District Judge Ed Bouker had little choice Monday but to sentence him to 24 months probation with community corrections.
The hearing was delayed briefly after Rulene Brown Rosproy, the owner of Centennial Salon, said the wall adjoining T-Bone's Sports Bar and Grill, has structural damage, which could cost more to repair.
"It could be an additional cost of up to $150,000," she said of the damage. "I feel my insurance company should not stand the expense of it."
Bouker sought to explain he's limited on what he can order in terms of restitution and took a short break so Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees could talk privately with her.
"I am limited on what I can do," Bouker said. "I can't put my hand in someone else's pocket."
In sentencing Butler, Bouker ultimately ordered restitution amounting to $11,304, the amount of out-of-pocket expenses paid by the five businesses sustaining expenses as a result of the fire.
The total damages, however, far exceeded the out-of-pocket costs. Insurance companies paid more than $337,000 for damages caused by the fire.
Insurance companies could seek to recover the money they've spent on the damages now that the criminal case has concluded.
The fire, during the early morning hours of Oct. 9, apparently started when Butler left a candle burning when he left the bar, according to Drees, reading from the affidavit supporting the issuance of the criminal complaint.
Butler returned to the scene after the fire was called in and fire and police were on the scene.