By Doug Ireland
---- — BRENTWOOD — When John Ramsey told police he would seek revenge if they didn’t arrest his neighbor for sexual assault, he wasn’t kidding.
Four hours later, the 43-year-old Londonderry man tried to blow up a car, sparking an inferno that burned three vehicles and left residents of his apartment complex in fear.
Yesterday, Ramsey pleaded guilty to three arson charges and was sentenced to two and a half to six years in state prison.
Ramsey, shackled and wearing a prison jumpsuit, appeared before Judge Kenneth McHugh in Rockingham Superior Court. He originally pleaded not guilty, but later changed his plea.
Ramsey admitted setting the fire outside Charleston Avenue Apartments on Sept. 6 following an argument with neighbors. When police responded shortly after midnight, Ramsey told them a neighbor had touched his girlfriend and her two daughters. Ramsey then said he would deal with the man on his own if police didn’t, according to Londonderry Detective Sgt. Kim Bernard.
“He told the first responding officers, ‘If you don’t deal with this guy right now, I will be back to take care of it myself,”’ Bernard said yesterday.
The assault allegations proved to be false, Bernard said.
After police left, Ramsey took matters into own hands, lighting a 150-foot fireworks fuse placed in the gas tank of a Ford Escape parked outside. Ramsey thought it was the neighbor’s vehicle, but it belonged to the man’s sister.
When the fuse didn’t light, he punctured the vehicle’s gas line and lighted cardboard shoved beneath the dripping gas. The Escape burst into flames, which quickly spread to two other vehicles — a Ford Explorer and a Honda Accord — but not the apartments.
Ramsey denied starting the fire, which frightened everyone in the complex, Bernard said. He wasn’t arrested until later that month for allegedly threatening an ex-girlfriend.
“Those people lived in fear until he was arrested,” Bernard said. “For those people, they finally have justice.”
Ramsey, who didn’t speak in court, faced three and half to seven years in prison on each charge if convicted at trial.
He received sentences of three and half to seven years, suspended for five years, on two of the three charges.
Ramsey must pay a $4,000 fine and pay at least $11,000 in restitution for the damage to the vehicles, two of which were destroyed, prosecutor Bradley Bolton said.
McHugh accepted Bolton’s recommended sentence.
Ramsey’s attorney, public defender Brett Newkirk, declined to comment on the sentence.