Arsonist, 18, writes apology letters to victims

Clyde Turner, 18, pleaded guilty to second-degree arson and burglary in September 2015. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
Clyde Turner, 18, pleaded guilty to second-degree arson and burglary in September 2015. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
Published Oct. 10, 2015

NEW PORT RICHEY — Clyde Turner braced the yellow legal paper against his jailhouse bunk and neatly drafted a letter.

"I write this letter as an apology for my actions that have affected you and your family," the 18-year-old from Holiday wrote to Theresa Omelia, whose belongings burned up in a fire Turner started at a self-storage facility. "I could write a trillion apology letters and it wouldn't ever make up for your belongings."

One down, another 199 to go.

Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa ordered Turner, who pleaded guilty to second-degree arson and burglary three weeks ago, to write an apology letter to each person who lost something in the fire. About 200 in total. Because of the remorse Turner showed in the letters, Siracusa levied a lighter sentence Friday: five months in county jail and eight years' probation. Turner still has to pay more than $500,000 in restitution.

If he breaks probation, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

"To give life to the words you wrote in those page," Siracusa said, "get a job, work hard and do your best to make it right."

Turner intended to burn down only the storage unit of his mother's abusive ex-boyfriend. In the early morning of Feb. 16, Turner scaled an exterior wall of Extra Space Storage at 3118 U.S. 19 in Holiday by climbing a metal down spout, according to his arrest report. He then disabled a security camera and found the unit he believed belonged to his target.

Using a hammer, Turner pried off the door's lock and, once inside, doused the contents with gasoline. He then lit the gas with a cigarette lighter and left, the report said.

The flames spread to about 40 other units, rendering them and their contents a complete loss. Pasco sheriff's deputies arrested Turner later that day.

Turner had been in his freshman year of college, according to court records.

"You have a client who has a mind, body and soul that he can overcome the mistake he's made," Siracusa told Turner and his attorney. "Success is a series of dedicated efforts every day. Failure, as you've learned, can be one big thing."

About 15 friends and family members attended the sentencing. They huddled before entering the courtroom and said two prayers: one for Turner, and one asking God for Siracusa to be merciful.

Turner's mother declined to comment after the hearing.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or Follow @josh_solomon15.