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Man 'extremely sorry' for setting fire to Burnaby lowrise during 'bad trip'

Phillip Elliott, 53, was granted a conditional discharge with 12 months of probation for a fire at an apartment building at 4451 Albert St. in Burnaby on May 26, 2023.
A fire at the Villa Cortina Apartments at 4451 Albert St. on May 26, 2023 was 'deliberately set,' according to a fire investigation.

A 53-year-old man is "extremely sorry" for setting fire to a Burnaby apartment building during a "bad trip" last year.

Phillip Elliott pleaded guilty in Vancouver provincial court Tuesday to one count of arson damaging property.

He had also been charged with arson in relation to an inhabited property, but that charge was stayed at the end of the hearing.

The charges relate to a fire at the Villa Cortina Apartments at 4451 Albert St. on May 26, 2023, according to agreed facts read out in court by Crown prosecutor Heather Burley.

She said the fire department was called to the building at 4:10 a.m. that morning for a building fire.

Shortly after, Burnaby RCMP got a call from Elliott, who said he'd been abducted and beaten by a coworker.

Police located a "shirtless and shoeless" Elliott about 250 metres away from the fire and apprehended him under the Mental Health Act, Burley said.

His coworker, meanwhile, told police Elliott had been having a "bad trip" and that he had found him right by the electrical receptacle where the fire started.

Defence lawyer Sarah Leamon said Elliott told her he and his coworker had smoked some marijuana that day and also consumed some alcohol and "he thought he had done mushrooms."

"He's not entirely certain what was in the drink that he drank," Leamon said.

Blood tests were "inconclusive," she said, but one thing was certain.

"Drugs had clearly been consumed. He was intoxicated," Leamon said.

The Burnaby Fire Department told the NOW the fire travelled from an electrical outlet in the wall on the second floor to the ceiling.

Crews had to tear off the drywall to extinguish the blaze, the department said.

Smoke on the second and third floors had to be ventilated, according to the department, but residents who had been evacuated were then allowed to return to their suites.

A fire investigation later determined the fire had been deliberately set, according to Burley.

She said the total damage to the building was estimated at just over $75,000.

Both lawyers proposed a conditional discharge for Elliott with 12 months of probation, a $1,000 restitution order, an apology letter and a condition not to go to 4451 Albert St.

While the incident posed a public safety risk and endangered residents at the apartment building, Burley said Elliott has no criminal record and no previous dealings with police.

She also noted his early guilty plea and his remorse, which she said she believed to be genuine.

Leamon said Elliott is a "very nice, agreeable person" who has been gainfully employed throughout his adult life.

"He is also extremely remorseful about this incident," she said.  

Elliott told the court he was "extremely sorry" for what he had done.

B.C. provincial court Judge Ellen Gordon said the proposed sentence was appropriate in the case.

She said she believed Elliott's remorse was genuine and she found an apology letter he wrote to the owner of the apartment building "compelling."

With a conditional discharge, Elliott will not have a criminal record if he abides by the conditions of his probation.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on X/Twitter @CorNaylor
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