Pang, the son of the owners of the warehouse that was set ablaze, pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree manslaughter in 1998 and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Martin Pang, the failed businessman and struggling actor whose scheme to cash in on his parents’ insurance led to the worst tragedy in Seattle Fire Department history, will be released from prison as early as Sept. 27, according to the state Department of Corrections.
Pang set fire to his parents’ Chinatown International District frozen-food warehouse on Jan. 5, 1995, with hopes of collecting the insurance money. As the fire raged, a floor collapsed and four firefighters plummeted into the burning basement.
Killed were Lt. Walter Kilgore, 45; Lt. Gregory Shoemaker, 43; and firefighters Randall Terlicker, 35, and James Brown, 25.
Pang was convicted of four counts of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
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The Department of Corrections said Friday that Pang, 62, had earned an early release date of Sept. 27, but also said that the date was not set and was instead the earliest estimated day for his release. Corrections officials said Pang hadn’t had an infraction behind bars since 2013.
Responding to the news of Pang’s upcoming release, the Seattle Fire Department issued an emailed statement Friday afternoon, commending “the ultimate sacrifice” of the firefighters who died in the blaze and noting the day in 1995 is one the agency will never forget.
“These brave men died protecting the community they served,” the statement said. “The mission of the Seattle Fire Department is carried out every day in their memory.”
Following the fire, suspicions immediately fell on Pang, who many remembered as a violent, spoiled man accustomed to the finer things in life thanks to the wealth of his adoptive parents, Harry and Mary Pang.
An associate of Pang’s told The Seattle Times and police that even before the arson, Pang had discussed burning down the warehouse. His threats to an ex-wife were urgent enough in December 1994 that she told an insurance agent who alerted authorities. They watched the business for a few days, but stopped three weeks before the arson because they didn’t think Pang would do it.
A day after the fire, a judge signed an order declaring there was probable cause that Pang was responsible for the fire and the four deaths. But police held off on arresting him, possibly in hopes of gathering more evidence.
Before police could move in, Pang fled to Brazil, where, unlike here, laws do not hold an arsonist responsible for deaths that occur as a result of the fires they set.
Officials in Brazil refused to extradite Pang to face four first-degree murder charges for the arson deaths because the same crime in that country could not be charged as murder.
After a three-year legal battle, Pang was returned to the U.S. in 1998 after prosecutors here agreed to charge him with four counts of first-degree manslaughter. Pang pleaded guilty to the charges that year and was sentenced to in prison.
While behind bars, Pang became the focus of another Seattle police investigation.
Authorities said he was positioning himself for an after-prison “life of luxury” through two schemes — one to steal the identities of witnesses against him, and a second to siphon millions of dollars from the Tulalip Resort Casino.
Seattle police, in 2013, said that Pang engineered an elaborate identity-fraud scheme with an alleged accomplice on the outside, looking to steal the identities of firefighters, police officers and witnesses who played a role in his criminal case. Pang, police said, planned to use the money upon his release to flee to Brazil and live in luxury.
Police said Pang had birth dates and Social Security numbers of fire and police personnel from training records that were included in discovery materials turned over by prosecutors as part of the manslaughter case. State law has since changed, allowing agencies to redact Social Security numbers from such records.
KING-TV reported that Pang lost 76 days of “good time” credit and wound up in a harsher prison environment as a result of the investigation.
Last year, the state Court of Appeals ruled that Pang would have to pay nearly $3 million in restitution and other legal costs when he’s released from prison.
The Seattle Fire Department, which was hit with lawsuits from the firefighters’ families and state fines for safety violations, made major changes to its policies and procedures after the deaths of the four firefighters.
Crews at the Pang fire lacked critical information, such as the layout of the building and the fact that it had been the subject of arson threats. Now, fire crews are often equipped with building plans and are warned of potential dangers, such as arson threats or the presence of explosive chemicals.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jessica Lee and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.