PALMYRA — What’s past is past, said Palmyra Village Mayor Chris Piccola following sentencing last week for the Palmyra woman who pleaded guilty  to setting a blaze that destroyed three historic downtown buildings.
“I think the community is over it,” said Piccola. “I think the community has moved on.”
Christina L. Nicklaw, 29, formerly of 236 E. Main St., pleaded guilty to fourth-degree arson, the highest charge against her, in Wayne County Court on Monday, Jan. 6, Wayne County District Attorney Rick Healy said. She was sentenced to 5 years’ probation.
“I felt jail would serve no purpose in her case due to her mental illness,” Healy said. “The judge agreed.”
In less than a year since fire ravaged a portion of Main Street in Palmyra, the village has found closure and healing, said Piccola.
He said one reason for that is that the buildings were razed quickly and replaced with a new Mark’s Pizzeria. He said the healing process would have slowed had the burned-out buildings remained.
“I really hope she gets the help she needs,” Piccola said of Nicklaw.
Mark’s Pizzeria owner Mark Crane lost some irreplaceable memorabilia in the fire, but he harbors no ill will either.
“I’m glad she didn’t get hurt, first of all,” Crane said of Nicklaw. “I’m glad no one got hurt. I’m OK with everything that happened. I’m just happy we’re back open.”
Crane isn’t looking back at what he lost to the flames. Business at the new restaurant is as good as ever, and this spring he plans to open the picnic/park area. He’s also busy working on eight other restaurants across the region, including Walworth. If anything, the rebuilding process showed Crane why he decided to start his business in Palmyra 30 years ago.
“The first week we were open, so many people came in,” Crane said. “I couldn’t believe it. I worked open to close that first week, and so many regulars stopped by. I just want to thank everyone who came down.”
What’s more, it’s only been eight months since the fire and the new pizza shop was designed, constructed and opened in less than six months — that’s something else he can’t believe, Crane quipped.
Nicklaw was arrested by Palmyra police in June after a grand jury handed down an indictment that included charges of felony fourth-degree arson, fourth-degree criminal mischief, second-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. Nicklaw’s trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday, Jan. 7 when she entered her guilty plea. If convicted of the most serious charge at trial, she would have faced a maximum of 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison.
The fire broke out on May 3 in a third-floor apartment at 236 E. Main St. Some 16 fire companies from three counties battled the blaze for about four hours before bringing it under control.
The ensuing investigation revealed Nicklaw allegedly started the blaze by setting fire to a pile of blankets and sheets in her bedroom while her 4-year-old daughter was still in the apartment, Healy said following an indictment handed down by a grand jury weeks after the fire. Nicklaw’s boyfriend discovered the fire and put it out. The boyfriend then asked Nicklaw if she was trying to kill herself, Healy said, and Nicklaw said yes, she was. She was taken to the hospital by her boyfriend after he thought he had sufficiently snuffed out the fire. Fire investigators believe the smoldering blankets and sheets rekindled flames and the fire broke out anew.
Nicklaw was examined by psychiatrists for the defense and prosecution, Healy said, and they both confirmed her mental illness.
“Psychiatrists felt due to her mental illness she was unaware of her actions when she started the fire,” Healy said. “She was hearing voices ... It was a bad situation.”
Healy said Nicklaw will be closely monitored by the Wayne County Probation Department, and if in-patient treatment is necessary, she will be admitted for psychiatric care. Nicklaw is currently under the care of Wayne Behavorial Health, where she is getting the services she needs, he said.
Healy said no restitution was ordered in light of the fact that Nicklaw is destitute and damage from the fire totaled millions of dollars. Nicklaw is currently residing in a small motel, and Healy said her illness will prevent her from ever being able to work.
Nicklaw’s daughter remains in the care of relatives, Healy added.