Two victims of a 2014 revenge arson were awarded $2.9 million for damages by a Wahkiakum County jury last week.
In a civil suit with Sam Valdez — the Wahkiakum County man who set fire to the plaintiffs home after they testified in his divorce trial — Kathleen and Fred Cantrell of Rosburg, Wash. sought damages for the loss of their property and for the anguish they experienced during and after the event.
Jurors awarded $356,000 for the loss of their home and attached studio, $450,000 for the loss of their personal property, additional damages for inconvenience and $1 million for mental pain and suffering.
The Cantrells were inside their home in July 2014 when a fire burned down their home and killed their two dogs − a Blue Heeler and Shar Pei − and destroyed all of their worldly belongings. The Cantrell’s losses included thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, guns and artwork by Kathleen, as well as countless other personal items, according to court documents.
Valdez is currently serving 21 years in prison for first-degree conspiracy to murder his ex-wife Beth Robbins, first-degree arson, delivery of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver or manufacture.
Valdez chose to represent himself in the one-day civil trial and attend by telephone from the Clallam Bay Corrections Center. According to court documents, Valdez called collect from the center and demanded to know why he was not allowed to represent himself in person.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Valdez’s time was up − each call from the center’s phone only last’s 20 minutes − and he did not call back. The court continued the rest of the trial without Valdez.
A letter addressed to Valdez on Feb. 17 from a court administrator explained: “Judge Goelz has reviewed and approved your motion to appear by phone for the civil trial... However, as this is a civil matter, the Judge cannot issue an order to the Department of Corrections for your telephonic appearances.”
Jurors deliberated for almost exactly an hour before returning a verdict. No information was available Friday about how or whether Valdez will pay the judgment.
The case will return to the Wahkiakum County Superior Court one more time on Monday, March 20 for Judge Goelz to sign off on the jury’s judgment.
The Cantrells’ attorney, Longview’s Duane Crandall, was unavailable Friday for comment.