A man who was initially charged with burning down a Dolores couple’s home in September agreed to a plea bargain and was sentenced in April to six years in a Montrose community corrections facility, according to the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.
On Sept. 12, Byren Powell, 28, of Towaoc, was arrested on Road 26 after a five-hour manhunt west of Dolores, and south of McPhee Reservoir. He was later charged with arson of a nearby home, burglary and auto theft.
According to police reports, Powell broke into the Road 27 home of Thomas and Lorna Gift, set it on fire and stole a .22-caliber rifle and their Chevy pickup truck, which he crashed into an irrigation structure a mile away.
“His story was that he was on drugs and was hallucinating that someone was trying to kill him,” said sheriff investigator Tyson Cox.
Powell broke down a door while the owners were away, then lit the carpet in a guest bedroom on fire, according to sheriff reports. The fire quickly spread and destroyed the home.
Under a plea bargain, Powell pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary, Cox said, and was ordered to pay $339,000 in restitution to the insurance company, and $4,357 to the Gifts.
Community corrections is a type of minimum security halfway house managed in partnership with the Colorado Department of Corrections. Powell will be required to do community service and get a job.
Part of his paycheck will be withheld for restitution payments and room and board.
At the sentencing hearing, Cox said the Gifts testified about the devastation Powell caused on their lives.
“They lost property, but the most upsetting for them was the loss of family pictures and mementos they were planning to pass on to their relatives,” he said.
Powell told sheriff investigators he had been using drugs at a nearby residence, then began having paranoid delusions and fled.
He had no connection to the Gifts, and his attack on their property was completely random.
The family’s three dogs and a cat escaped the fire through a pet door.
The crime spree triggered a man-hunt in the Rustic Ridge area that startled residents.
Sheriff deputies searched by foot and vehicle, and an aircraft was called in from San Juan County, New Mexico.
A resident reported a suspicious person, and Powell was apprehended without incident a short time later.