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Pacific Pride arsonist sentenced to 17 years

A man convicted of first-degree arson for starting the fire that wiped out the Carson Pacific Pride in south Medford — among other businesses and commercial buildings — will serve three years shy of Oregon’s maximum penalty for the crime.

John Charles Salmons, 50, was sentenced Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court to 17 years in prison followed by three years of post-prison supervision for starting the April 12 fire, according to the Jackson County District Attorney’s office.

The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison, but Circuit Court Judge Kelly Ravassipour said during the sentencing hearing that the maximum sentence would have resulted in no post-prison supervision, according to the DA’s office. Ravassipour told Salmons during the sentencing hearing that he is exactly the kind of person who needs to be on some sort of supervision.

The first 911 call came in with reports of a fire at 9:39 p.m. April 12 on the back side of a fence running between Pacific Pride in the 900 block of South Central Avenue and the railroad tracks leading to the petroleum business.

First responders found multiple containers holding automatic transmission fluid and motor oil along the fence line, according to the DA’s office. By the time Medford firefighters got on scene, the fire already was beginning to breach the fence and spread to nearby businesses.

A fire investigator testified at Salmons’ trial last week that the fire’s remote location made accessing and attacking the fire’s origin a challenge, according to the DA’s office.

The firefight lasted until 5 a.m. the following morning, and Medford Fire Capt. Michael Longo testified that it took approximately 1 million gallons of water to extinguish the fire.

Witnesses also told police they’d seen a person matching Salmons’ description acting strangely at the scene of the fire. For example, where others would cringe at the explosions while watching the fire break, the suspect would cheer.

Salmons became a person of interest in the fire April 16, after he was seen with a fire and in possession of a lighter along the Bear Creek Greenway, which was a violation of his probation on a January second-degree arson conviction.

Salmons’ cellmate in the Jackson County Jail came forward after Salmons reportedly told him he started the fire using brake cleaner that he transferred to an empty pepper spray canister.

Police found such a canister in Salmons’ personal property, and the Oregon State Police crime lab determined the canister contained “an ignitable liquid in the Light Range of the Oxygenated Solvents Class” — a category that can include brake cleaner.

On June 16, a jury found Salmons guilty of one felony count of first-degree arson, six counts of second-degree criminal mischief — one count for each of the surrounding businesses that were damaged or destroyed — and one count of recklessly endangering another person.

Salmons will also be ordered to pay restitution. The losses from the fire have yet to be calculated but are estimated to exceed $10 million. A restitution figure will be determined in the next 90 days.