On this week’s front page, we ran a story about the release of Martin Pang, an arsonist who set fire to his parents’ Chinatown building on Jan. 5, 1995 to collect insurance money. That blaze led to the deaths of four Seattle firefighters when they broke through a false floor and fell to the basement. There, Lt. Walter D. Kilgore, then 45, Lt. Gregory Allen Shoemaker, then 43, Firefighter Randy Terlicker, then 35, and Firefighter James T. Brown, then 25, all suffocated to death.
This was the worst loss in Seattle Fire Department (SFD) history, one that the city has not fully recovered from. This tragedy is remembered through the Fallen Firefighter Memorial, four bronze statues that are in Occidental Park, adjacent to SFD.
In our front page story, “Decades after deaths of Seattle firefighters, arsonist Martin Pang will walk free again,” we talked to retired King County Superior Court Judge Larry Jordan, who was the one who sentenced Pang to 35 years in prison to atone for his actions, and asked Jordan if he thinks that justice has been served. Jordan said, “Some justice, not complete justice.”
In May, when news broke that Pang was to be released from prison later this month on Sept. 27 — after serving only 20 years of his sentence — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tweeted, “Martin Pang should never be granted an early release. He is responsible for the death of four heroic firefighters who gave their lives in service of our community. The families of the fallen and [SFD] are forever changed because of his cowardly and deadly actions.”
Pang is reportedly being released early for “good behavior,” which is a claim that many are doubting.
Prior to the deaths of the firefighters, Pang was young, charming, and lived a life of leisure, footed by his parents.
He also had a dark side. Pang was married four times between 1978 and 1989. All of his marriages ended in violence. His first wife, Jean Wyke, was hospitalized for vertebral fractures, a broken nose, and broken eardrum, which he doled out. His second wife, Sandra Jean Spencer, said that Pang assaulted her — enough that she was taken to Swedish Hospital. His third wife, Rise Live Johansen, said he threatened to kill her. His fourth wife, Karlyn Tierny, wouldn’t talk about him to the press, but in 1995, it was reported that police records show that she told the police Pang tried to hire somebody to kill her.
Further, while incarcerated, as recent as 2013, Pang was caught in a scheme to defraud firefighters. With a co-conspirator, Charles McClain, Pang planned to set up credit accounts in the names of firefighters, police officers, and witnesses involved in his case. They planned to steal theses identities and direct money to offshore accounts.
At the time, investigators said he planned to travel to Brazil with his nest egg upon release.
Does this seem like good behavior to you? It doesn’t to us. This man’s actions have taken away people from their families — a loss that is felt for a lifetime. Four firefighters died, and in all, Pang has only served five years for each death. We are struggling to make sense of this leniency.