By Sarah Mahoney
PORTLAND, Maine (Reuters) - A civilian painter who twice set fires on a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine last year so that he could get out of work early was sentenced to 17 years in prison on Friday.
Casey James Fury, 25, set two fires nearly a month apart that caused as much as $500 million in damages to the U.S.S. Miami attack submarine that was in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for maintenance.
Prosecutors had requested a 20-year sentence after Fury pleaded guilty in November. Fury's lawyer had argued for a 15-year sentence, reflecting his client's extreme anxiety, for which he was taking medication at the time.
Fury, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, started the first fire on May 23 with a plastic bag filled with rags, igniting a blaze that burned for 12 hours, and caused between $400 million and $500 million in damages and injured five people, prosecutors said.
"The fire easily could have been fatal," Assistant U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee said at the sentencing hearing at U.S. District Court in Portland, Maine. The fire endangered 50 workers who had been performing maintenance to the submarine and imperilled emergency responders, McElwee said.
Fury also pleaded guilty to setting a second fire on June 16, two days after he had been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. That fire was put out quickly and caused little damage. On June 19, he pulled a fire alarm, causing another evacuation of the sub.
"The second fire is especially troubling, and displays a callous disregard for property and safety of others, after what he had seen in the first fire," Judge George Singal said.
Singal also ordered Fury to undergo substance abuse counselling, mental health treatment and to pay $400 million in restitution.
Fury confessed to setting the fires to create a reason for him to leave work early, because he had no available sick or vacation time to claim.
Fury told Navy investigators he was taking a variety of medications for anxiety, depression, allergies and insomnia when he set the first fire.
Repairs to the submarine will not be completed until 2015, and the Navy plans to use the vessel for 10 years after that, the U.S. Defence Department said in August.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)