BARRE – The owners of the Sundara Day Spa are behind bars for intentionally setting the business on fire in December 2018.
Kristopher Kirby, 48, of East Montpelier, was sentenced Monday in Washington County criminal court in Barre to two to 10 years, all suspended except for 18 months to serve on a felony count of first-degree arson and two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment. Kirby pleaded guilty to the felony in December and to the two misdemeanors Monday.
That’s because Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault had initially dismissed four misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment but added two of them back Monday to reflect the risk Kirby put a family in that was living above the spa at the time the fire was set.
His wife Lesilee Kirby, 49, also of East Montpelier, was sentenced to two to seven years, all suspended except for nine months, six of which will be served on home confinement on a felony count of first-degree arson and a misdemeanor count of violating conditions of release. She pleaded guilty in September. The state agreed to home confinement for part of her sentence because of her health issues.
The Kirbys were also placed on probation for 10 years.
Judge Mary Morrissey nearly declined to accept the plea agreement and sentence for Lesilee Kirby because she said it appeared Lesilee Kirby was not taking responsibility for her role in the crime. The Department of Corrections judge said it appeared Lesilee Kirby was more concerned with the gift cards the business had issued to its customers than the children that were put in danger because of the fire.
Lesilee Kirby said that was not the case and while she did not “mastermind” the scheme, she admitted to taking part in it and helped plan it with her husband.
Robert Herdling was in attendance for the hearing. Herdling was living in the apartment above the spa with his girlfriend and two children when police said Kristopher Kirby set the Berlin business on fire.
Herdling said the children have suffered emotional trauma because of what the Kirbys did. He said he’s had trouble sleeping since the incident and no longer feels safe. Herdling said his family was lucky they were able to quickly find housing with a family member after the fire.
Kristopher Kirby said he made an “illogical decision” and was thankful no one was hurt. He said he was sorry for the trauma he caused the familiy. Lesilee Kirby also apologized for her actions.
Judge Morrissey said what the pair did was an “incredibly selfish act.”
Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Todd Ambroz said in his affidavit fire crews responded to the business on Route 302 on Dec. 2, 2018. Ambroz said a firefighter got inside the business and saw flames coming from the area where the cash register is located. The firefighter went down a hall and found more flames inside a room.
Ambroz said once most of the fire was put out, the firefighter saw a partially burned gasoline container and could smell an overwhelming scent of gas. He said a family of four lived in an apartment above the business, including a 7-year-old child and a 2-year-old child. While investigating the scene he saw what appeared to be a burned trail of gas leading from the cash register, down the hallway and to the massage room where the gas can was located.
Herdling reported the family was in the apartment when they heard what sounded like an explosion and the building shook. Herdling told Ambroz he went downstairs to see what was going on and saw smoke in the stairwell, told Ambroz he saw the flames from the fire, and then called 911.
Ambroz said police obtained surveillance footage from Twin City Family Fun Center, which is next door to the day spa. He said the footage showed a man leaving from a side door at the business with the fire already going. The footage then shows the man going behind the business and Ambroz said police found footprints in the snow behind the building. He said the footprints stopped at the edge of the Price Chopper parking lot, which is about a quarter of a mile from the business.
Ambroz said the Kirbys own a Honda Ridgeline, according to records from the Department of Motor Vehicles. He said surveillance footage from the supermarket showed a male in a Honda Ridgeline drive into the parking lot at about 5:45 p.m. He then walked towards the day spa and came back to the parking lot at about 7 p.m., according to the affidavit.
Police spoke to Lesilee Kirby and she reported the business had not been doing well and she had suggested filing for bankruptcy. She told police her husband didn’t want to file, and a few weeks back they were joking about burning the place down, but the jokes started to become more serious.
For the violation of conditions of release, police said Lesilee Kirby violated her curfew by going to the Price Chopper in Berlin in January 2019.