Skip to content

Surrey church arsonist sentenced to four years in prison

Kathleen Panek, 35, burned St. George Coptic Orthodox Church down and also set a carport on fire at Sunshine Co-op, forcing residents to flee
Aftermath of the fire that destroyed St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Whalley on July 19, 2021. (File photo: Shane MacKichan)

The woman who pleaded guilty to setting a fire at a Surrey housing co-op and burning down a Coptic church in Whalley last July has been sentenced to four years in prison.

In the late evening of March 15, 2021 Kathleen Panek, 35, while high on drugs and hunting for cigarette butts, set a fire in the carport of a unit at Sunshine Co-op, forcing residents to flee. It was captured on CCTV surveillance video.

Panek used a lighter to set a pile of cardboard boxes on fire, and watched it for a while before leaving. That fire caused $300,000 in property damage. Nobody was physically injured but some residents were displaced from their homes at the co-op, at 10744 133 St.

On July 14, 2021 she lit a paper decoration on fire that had been hanging on the front door of the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church at 13905 108 Ave. She then returned five days later and burned the church down.

Judge Satinder Sidhu said in her reasons for decision that Panek watched that fire too. “She was carrying a butane torch in her hand.”

While nobody was physically injured, the congregation of about 250 families was left heartbroken. “The church was a source of comfort, hope and refuge,” the judge noted.

The court heard Panek lit the fires because she was angry after fighting with her partner. She had four prior convictions for property crimes, and breach of probation.

Panek, 35, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty to the crimes and was sentenced April 8 in Surrey provincial court. The Crown argued for a four-year sentence less time served since her arrest on Aug. 26, 2021. Panek’s defence argued for a sentence of two years less one day, less time served.

READ ALSO: Whalley church arsonist to be sentenced April 8

READ ALSO: Surrey church congregation heartbroken by devastating fire

READ ALSO: Woman charged with arson in fire that destroyed St. George Coptic Church in Whalley

A psychological assessment was ordered, Sidhu noted, “however Ms. Panek did not wish to take part in the assessment.”

“Ms. Panek has battled with drug addiction for the last 17 years. In the past she worked as a sex trade worker on the streets and committed property offences to fund her addiction.”

“Ms. Panek blames the conflict with her boyfriend, drug use and mental illness for the cause of her offending,” the judge noted.

She will receive 339 days credit for time served.

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram  and follow Tom on Twitter

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
Read more