Punta Gorda Police Department
Wayne Ellery Steier, was adjudicated guilty and sentenced, to 30 years in prison for Arson of a Dwelling, in Charlotte County. The defendant was also sentenced to 15 years of probation for Arson of a Conveyance, to run consecutive to count one. He was ordered to pay $135,000 in restitution to the victim, have no contact with the victim, and pay court costs and the cost of prosecution.
Trial was scheduled to begin today. Just as jury selection was getting underway, the defendant entered an open plea to the court. Defendants have the right to plea to the court and give up their right to a jury trial. This is not a plea agreement.
Assistant State Attorneys Caitlin Sorenson and Cynthia Rebholz-Rubin prosecuted the case. The Punta Gorda Police Department led the investigation. The Punta Gorda Fire Marshal and Florida Department of Financial Services Arson Investigators also joined the investigation.
In August 2021, the defendant set a van on fire, in a community off Burnt Store Road. The fire then spread to a mobile home where a person was sleeping. The sound of the fire and smell of smoke woke the victim. They were able to get out of the mobile home without being burned.
Video from a security surveillance system showed a man, carrying a gas can, approaching the van, pouring gas, and lighting a match, to start the fire. The suspect was seen driving an SUV.
The video was analyzed and the suspect was identified. Steier was then located and arrested.