Island man charged with arson for Christmas Day fire on his sailboat

Islander Lyman Houghton has been charged with first-degree arson for a Christmas Day fire on his 31-foot sailboat at the Dockton Marina last year, where he worked as a volunteer caretaker for the King County park.

Houghton, 58, is being held on $250,000 bail in the King County jail. His arraignment — when he's expected to enter a plea — is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 4, in King County Superior Court.

Houghton, a carpenter, has also been charged with second degree perjury and making a false claim.

According to charging papers, Houghton burned the boat because he was more than $3,000 behind on payments to the owner, who carried the contract for the $15,000 fiberglass Catalina. The day after the fire, according to the prosecutor, Houghton filed a claim with State Farm Insurance.

The 19-page court document outlines a detailed description of what investigators believe happened on Dec. 25, 2009, when Houghton was allegedly away from his boat and returned to find it on fire. According to the document, there were many signs that the fire was intentionally lit, including a strong gasoline odor coming from the boat, red gasoline containers poked with holes and leaking liquid and a gas-soaked cardboard box packed with candles.

Investigators found one partially melted gas container with the letters L, Y and M and part of an A on it, even though Houghton had denied having any gas cans on the boat.

Houghton told investigators that he believed teenagers may have tried to burn his boat, noting that he had plenty of enemies because of the role he played at the county-owned park, where he often called 911 to report suspicious activity. In January, in a news story about vandalism at county-owned parks, he told The Beachcomber that he believed he was the victim of arson and that extensive smoke damage from the fire had made his boat unlivable.

But according to charging papers, no one was seen near his boat the day the fire took place.

Houghton voluntarily took a polygraph test in February, which found "deception" when he was asked about the arson and his involvement with what happened.

Investigators also said Houghton acted suspiciously on the day of the fire, showing little concern while firefighters put out the fire. What's more, according to one of the investigators, Houghton "hung his head" and made little eye contact when asked about the crime.

"I asked him if the fire was an overt 'criminal act meant to hurt people or the firefighters, or if 'it was an act of desperation of someone in financial trouble.' He replied that it was more of a 'desperate act,'" the lead investigator reported. Houghton, however, then denied that he had anything to do with the blaze, the investigator said.

First degree arson carries a sentencing range of 31 to 41 months.

Houghton could not be reached for comment. He's expected to be given a court-appointed lawyer. Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said the office does not yet know the name of his lawyer.

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