Steamboat Springs Authorities in Ohio continued to search Monday night for three missing people connected to a 13-year-old girl who was found bound and gagged in the basement of a man with Steamboat Springs ties.
The suspect, who has been arrested on kidnapping charges in the ongoing Ohio case, was convicted of arson in Steamboat Springs in 2001 and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Matthew John Hoffman is in custody in Mount Vernon, Ohio, after authorities there said they found Sarah Maynard in his basement during the weekend. The girl’s mother, brother and a family friend still are missing and haven’t been seen since Wednesday.
The Knox County sheriff overseeing the case conceded Monday afternoon that the missing people could be dead. All four vanished Wednesday from the girl’s home, which was splattered with blood, police said. After describing the investigation for days as a missing-persons case, Sheriff David Barber referred to it late Monday as “an investigation into the recovery of three people.”
Those still missing are Maynard’s younger brother Kody, 11; her mother Tina Herrmann, 32; and family friend Stephanie Sprang, 41.
Authorities focused their search Monday on a small lake near Hoffman’s home. Two cars were pulled from the lake, but authorities there said they are likely not related to the case.
Hoffman pleaded guilty to arson in Steamboat in 2001 for setting an Aug. 28, 2000, fire that burned 10 townhomes in The Ridge development and caused $2 million in damage. Hoffman set the fire in an attempt to cover up a burglary he committed the day before, when he stole a Chevrolet Suburban from townhome owner Robert Egizii, of Illinois. Hoffman was a plumber and was installing some fixtures at the townhome when he took a key from the house.
Hoffman returned the day after the burglary with 10 gallons of gasoline, doused Egizii’s townhome and set it ablaze. The Suburban and items stolen from the home were found about a mile from the house.
Sixteen people were evacuated from the townhomes during the fire, but nobody was injured. Two of the townhomes were destroyed, and the other eight were damaged.
Investigators immediately suspected arson. Hoffman, then 19, confessed to the crimes and an unrelated theft of “Welcome to Steamboat” signs in late September 2001, Steamboat Springs Director of Public Safety JD Hays said at the time.
Hoffman received an eight-year prison term for his guilty plea to first-degree arson. He also was sentenced to four years in prison each for guilty pleas to second-degree burglary and first-degree aggravated motor vehicle theft. He also got four years in prison for a guilty plea to felony theft and six months in Routt County Jail for a misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment.
At his sentencing, Hoffman said he did not want to hurt anybody.
“I just want to say that I did have concern for the people in the condos,” he said to the judge. “Now that I think back about it, I would not have done it.”
Then-District Judge Joel S. Thompson ordered the sentences served concurrently, giving Hoffman eight years total. He also ordered five years of parole after Hoffman was out of jail.
Then-Deputy District Attorney Charles Feldmann said Hoffman should have been sentenced to at least 10 years in prison.
“This was not a little campfire or prank,” he said at the 2001 sentencing hearing.
Feldmann said Hoffman took time to plan the crime and set the fire knowing that people were sleeping in the area.
“This is just a true miracle that there was not a loss of life. This was not a quick childhood loss of judgment. This was a thought-out, premeditated plan,” Feldmann said in 2001.
Hoffman was in Routt County Jail from Sept. 26, 2000, to January 2001, when he was transferred to the care of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said Hoffman was in state prison until Jan. 10, 2007, and was on parole until Oct. 10, 2010. Hoffman was allowed to move to Ohio in 2007. He had paid about $4,800 toward the $2.06 million he owed in restitution for his Steamboat crimes, Colorado court system spokesman Jon Sarche said.
Other than a minor offense committed when he was a juvenile, Hoffman did not have a criminal history when he was convicted of the arson and theft charges.
On Monday, Feldmann, now a defense attorney in Steamboat, said Hoffman was not given enough prison time.
“I wish the court had granted my request for a longer prison sentence for Mr. Hoffman back in 2001,” Feldmann said. “His actions were horrific and his complete disregard for human life was of a magnitude that our local courts rarely encounter.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
— To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org