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Auburndale man admits setting Korean church van fire

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Kevin McKenna, 35, of 45-31 169th St. in Auburndale, was charged in December with setting fire to a church van in April 2002 that belonged to a Korean minister in Flushing, according to the DA Richard Brown's office.

In December, the Fire Department reported that he was the subject of an investigation into nine other fires in the same neighborhood.

A Fire Department spokesman said Tuesday investigations into the other fires were ongoing, but he could not confirm whether McKenna was the primary suspect.

Brown said McKenna would not be able to appeal his conviction and would serve probation along with already having paid the $15,000 restitution.

"The defendant has admitted his guilt, waived his right to appeal, acknowledged that he set fire to the church van and paid $15,000 in restitution," Brown said June 9. "Additionally, he has been ordered to perform 10 days of community service and to serve five years' probation during which he has been ordered to stay away from the victims."

McKenna's attorney, Chris Devane, did not return calls for comment.

Firefighters responded to the scene on April 14, 2002 and found a Korean church minister's 1990 Chevrolet van on fire.

The vehicle was parked outside Manna Presbyterian Church, 170-40 Northern Blvd. in Flushing, and was torched at about 4 a.m., according to the DA's office.

The fire was extinguished by 10 a.m. and was immediately deemed suspicious.

A Fire Department spokesman said McKenna was later questioned about the van that had both English and Korean lettering on it and then admitted he had set the blaze.

He lives in the middle of a three-block radius where nine other fires were set, the Fire Department said when he was charged in December.

He was charged with arson, reckless endangerment in the first degree, criminal mischief and hate crimes in connection with the burning of the Manna Presbyterian Church minister's vehicle, the DA said.

The criminal complaint indicated that McKenna made derogatory comments about Koreans and said he did not want people in his neighborhood selling their homes to Asians.

Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said at the time of McKenna's arrest that the nine other fires in the neighborhood were not ethnically connected to the one McKenna eventually pleaded guilty to setting. But all the fires were all similar in that they involved cars or garages on people's homes.

"He has to be watched very carefully," Avella said after learning of McKenna's sentence last week. "These individuals have a high incidence of repeat offenses."

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who represents the Korean neighborhood on the southern side of Northern Boulevard, was surprised to learn McKenna would not be imprisoned for his crime.

"That is utterly incomprehensible, that someone could place lives in jeopardy in such a premeditated manner and not be sentenced to prison time," Liu said.

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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