Provo • The three people who died as the result of a raging 2011 fire that tore through apartments, incinerating everything in its path, could not run. They could not will themselves out the door, could not move quickly enough to call for help or put out the blaze.
They were disabled, prosecutors said Friday, and that’s what made Yvette Kimber’s crime all the worse.
“These were vulnerable people,” said prosecutor Marianne O’Bryant. “Ms. Kimber knew her neighbors. She knew that.”
Kimber, 48, was sentenced Friday to the maximum possible penalty for setting the fire that killed two people instantly and injured one so severely she later died — four to 60 years in the Utah state prison.
Kimber, who pleaded guilty in August to second-degree felony counts of manslaughter, arson and aggravated assault, has come a long way since her arrest, her attorney said Friday.
“When she was arrested, quite frankly, she was bitter, she was angry,” said defense attorney Thomas Means. “But she’s come a long, long way. It’s been a hard emotional journey, and she has changed. She has come to understand the hurt she’s caused, and she is remorseful.”
When the judge gave Kimber a chance to speak, she asked if she could turn around to face the victims’ friends and family, instead of the judge and prosecutors.
Fourth District Judge Lynn Davis nodded.
“I just want to say I’m sorry,” Kimber said, clutching a crumpled tissue in her hand. “[The victims] were my friends, too. That makes it hurt even more.”
As she spoke, more than two dozen people seated in the courtroom gallery passed around tissues. Several held hands. Sniffles and cries filled the gaps between Kimber’s words.
“I was suffering,” she said. “I know now that it was the wrong way to do things, but I was desperate. I wish every day I could go back and change what happened.”
Upon her arrest, Kimber allegedly told police that the night of the fire, she was suicidal and took pills, drank and smoked marijuana, believing she could fall asleep with a cigarette and start a fire that would kill her. When she woke up and that didn’t happen, she tried to light paper, her couch and the pillows of her love seat on fire, court documents state.
Prosecutors said they do not believe Kimber meant to harm anyone when she set the lethal fire on March 14, 2011.
The judge agreed.
But, he said, she must pay for the harm she inevitably caused.
“She will live with this painful tragedy for the rest of her life,” Davis said.
Victims’ friends and family declined to speak Friday, but the judge refused to allow those who died to remain voiceless. He read each of their names and invoked them again as he handed down Kimber’s sentence.
“I pay tribute to them,” Davis said. “I do not want [them] to be forever immortalized in the tomb of the unknown victim.”
Karen Murray and Catherine Crane were at home when the blaze engulfed eight of 16 units at the Boulders Apartments complex, near 750 South and 650 West.
Jeanette Spahr died at a care facility more than a year later due to complications and injuries she suffered when she leapt from a second-story window to escape the flames.
“Her decision was either stay and die,” said Provo City Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield, “or jump and live with the consequences.”
Spahr’s close friend, Emily Stone, attended Friday’s sentencing. She said she felt the punishment was fair, but wished she could have her friend back.
“I’m glad it’s finally over,” Stone said. “There really isn’t any sentence that’s fair. There were three lives lost here.”
Prosecutors said victims’ families largely did not want to see Kimber be sent to prison for the rest of her life. It was part of the reason the state struck a deal that swapped two murder charges, which could have landed Kimber in prison for the rest of her life, for manslaughter.
According to court documents, Kimber has previously been convicted of three misdemeanor crimes — “all non-violent,” her lawyer said — and completed mental health court in 2005.
Kimber’s family members, who attended Friday’s hearing, declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
Several firefighters who responded to the 2011 blaze also attended Friday’s sentencing. Schofield said it was a difficult day for his team, and one they will never forget.
“It’s hard for a firefighter to go into a home and find victims they weren’t able to save,” Schofield said. “These are people who will deal with that for the rest of their career.”
Kimber will be given credit toward her sentence for the two and a half years she has already served in jail. The judge ordered restitution be determined at a later date.