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July 31, 2014

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Woman pleads guilty to reduced charge in hospital fire

Homeless woman to be sentenced in July for setting fire at Valley View Hospital restroom

Kathy Priest Ritner

Kathy Priest Ritner

A homeless woman accused of attempted murder and arson for allegedly setting a fire in March to the Valley View Hospital emergency room has accepted an agreement to plead guilty to a lesser charge in Clark County District Court.

Kathy Priest Ritner, 43, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of attempted malicious destruction of property before Arraignment Hearing Master Melissa De La Garza.

Ritner, who told the judge she was retired from the Navy, will be sentenced at 8:30 a.m. July 14 before District Judge James Bixler.

Ritner was originally arrested in connection with six counts of attempted murder and one count of arson, which was later reduced to one count of attempted murder and one count of arson in Las Vegas Justice Court.

During Ritner's arraignment Monday in district court, the judge explained to Ritner that she was pleading guilty to an offense that could be treated as either a Category D felony or as a gross misdemeanor.

If it's treated as a felony, the court can sentence her to the Nevada Department of Corrections for a term of not less than one year and no more than four years, with a possible fine of up to $5,000, De La Garza said. If it's treated as a gross misdemeanor, Ritner could be sentenced to jail for up to one year and fined up to $2,000, the judge told her. The judge also told her it was a probationary offense.

The judge also said sentencing was strictly up to the court, despite any agreement she had worked out with the district attorney's office.

Ritner was being held in the Clark County Detention Center on $40,000 bail.

On the morning of March 8, Ritner was taken by ambulance to the Valley Hospital emergency room for a medical complaint. She was examined and released. Officials said she was seen playing with a cigarette lighter while in the waiting room.

She then went into the restroom of the emergency room, allegedly set fire to a plastic waste container and then left, officials said. The melting plastic created a thick black smoke that was seen coming from the restroom. The judge said the damage to the bathroom wall was between $250 and $5,000.

When security personnel and medical staff entered the restroom to extinguish the fire, black smoke spread into the rest of the emergency room, officials said.

Fire officials said patients being treated in the emergency room for other medical emergencies were examined for smoke inhalation after the fire and the incident caused the emergency room to close for several hours.

Later that day, investigators found Ritner had left Valley View, but had gone to the emergency department at University Medical Center, where she was taken into custody by fire investigators.

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