A northeast Washington man was sentenced yesterday to two 10-year prison terms for setting fires that cost a D.C. fireman his right leg.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Joseph M. F. Ryan Jr. imposed the maximum sentence possible on Melvin E. Toten, 29, of 5016 Hunt St., for twice setting fires at a Northeast Washington home where his children lived.
The fires were set in late December 1979 and as the fire trucks responded to the blazes, two crashed, critically injuring veteran fireman Donald French of Riverdale. French's leg was amputated above the knee at the scene. He since has been in and out of the hospital for further operations, the most recent two weeks ago.
"I'm angry at how that guy can get away with this thing," said French, whose firefighting career has ended.
"It was a needless thing. It's because of this guy that I've lost my leg.
It's a real nonsense thing."
According to testimony and evidence presented at the trial, Toten tried unsuccessfully to visit his children at the house at 5323 Clay Ter. NE. When he refused to leave, he threatened the occupants in the house to "smoke you out, too."
Toten allegedly broke open the front door of the house, and began breaking windows and rampaging through the house, prosecutors argued.
Later he left, and family members barricaded the doors with washing machines, a television and furniture. Toten allegedly threw rocks and bricks at the doors. The occupants escaped through a window.
At about 11:30 p.m., a fire erupted in a rear bedroom. Investigators said it had been caused by arson. The fire was extinguished, but at 1:30 a.m., a second fire started in the upstairs rear bedroom. It destroyed much of the house. Fire investigators determined that the fire had been caused by a molotov cocktail. The family lost most of their property in the blaze and had to be relocated by the Red Cross.
Fireman French said he was holding on to the side of a ladder truck as it and other trucks rushed to the scene. One truck careened broadside into his. "If I hadn't been looking, I'd be dead," French said.
"I can still feel that leg," French said. "All the time -- cramps in the foot. It feels like it's on fire."
Toten also was sentenced to two three-year prison terms on charges of destruction of property. The 10-year terms for arson and the three-year terms are to be served at the same time, which means Toten received a total sentence of 13 years.