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‘Good behavior’ doesn’t bring back four dead Seattle firefighters

In this file photo, Seattle firefighters spray water on flames at a five-alarm warehouse fire in Seattle. (AP Photo/Gary Stewart,File)

How was your weekend? For the first time in over 20 years, Martin Pang — who set fire to a warehouse in Seattle that four firefighters — got to spend a weekend as a free man.

Pang was released from the Walla Walla Penitentiary last Thursday. And reports say those in fire fighting community are upset by his release. They have every right to be upset.

Pang was originally sentenced to 35 years, but got out early on good behavior. Twenty years. Is that really enough?

I originally published the following in May, 2018, when we learned of Pang’s release date:

What do you think a life is worth? What do you think the life of a Seattle firefighter is worth?

The year was 1995. If you lived in Seattle like I did, you probably remember three events from that year. The Mariners were headed to the playoffs, the SuperSonics would make a run, too, and the Seattle Fire Department had its worst loss in SFD history when the Pang Warehouse in downtown Seattle was burned to the ground on Jan. 5.

Martin Pang, the playboy, and son of the owners of the warehouse would eventually strike a plea deal in the deaths of four Seattle firefighters — Lt. Walter D. Kilgore (45), Lt. Gregory Allen Shoemaker (43) Firefighter Randy Terlicker (35), and Firefighter James T. Brown (25). Mr. Pang set fire to his parent’s warehouse in order to collect the insurance money.

Seattle firefighters balk at Pang’s impending release

The Washington State Department of Corrections announced that on Sept. 27, 2018, Pang will be released 15 years early for “good behavior.” That means Mr. Pang will have served 20 years. Or, to put it another way, he will have served five years for each Seattle firefighter he killed.

So how did the four men die? It was brutal. According to the United States Administration Report (I read all 60 pages), all four firefighters died when a false floor collapsed in the warehouse and they dropped into a basement that the fire department was unaware of. All firefighters died of asphyxiation. Two of the firefighters died where they landed as the building collapsed and the other two were able to move through the basement looking for a way out. They never found their way out. For all four of them, the oxygen would run out. It took three days to recover all four men. Seven other firefighters narrowly escaped the inferno and were burned on their necks and hands as they jumped from windows and doorways.

I have been trying to find Martin Pang’s “good behavior.”

Was it good behavior when we reported that Martin Pang and an associate had been accused of collecting the identities of other Seattle firefighters who were fighting the blaze that night, so they could steal their identities, cash in on them, and flee to Brazil with the money they had stolen?

He lost 76 days of “good time” for that.

Was it good behavior when Martin Pang consistently pushed back against family members in court, made them relive this fire over and over again, so he wouldn’t have to pay the millions of dollars he owes the family members in restitution? According to The Seattle Times, he didn’t do this once, but twice.

Finally, is it “good behavior” when you have shown no remorse, reflection, or perspective? When you have a minute, search this: “Martin Pang apologizes,” “Martin Pang takes full responsibility,” “Martin Pang is a changed man.” Spoiler alert: No results.

I remember the memorial we had in the streets of Seattle after those firefighters died. I remember fire trucks and fire stations being renamed in their honor. But that will never make up for the children left behind, the weddings they would have attended, the trips they would have taken, the Christmases they missed, the partners they would have kissed, and all the fun they would have had in a life worth savoring.

The average American male lives to the age of 78. Martin Pang collectively took away 168 years from those four men’s lives and 168 years from their families. In return, at the age of 62, he is now going to be able to live an additional 16 years in freedom because of his “good behavior,” and who knows, with his luck, he will probably live longer.

The next time you walk through Occidental Park on your way to a Mariners game and you see those four bronze firefighters, know that memorial, which represents 34 fallen Seattle firefighters, was inspired by the sacrifice those four men made on that cold January day in 1995. And know that if you are a firefighter, a cop, or any type of first responder here in the State of Washington, your life is worth about five years at Walla Walla State Penitentiary.

I’ll see you on the radio at 3 p.m.

Don O’Neill

You can hear Don every weekday 3-7 p.m. during the Ron and Don Show on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM.

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