Palos Hills man gets probation for torching Naperville pancake house
BY JON SEIDEL Sun-Times Media firstname.lastname@example.org June 12, 2012 3:38PM
Peter H. Ladias
Updated: June 12, 2012 5:19PM
A man severely wounded in a late-night blast at a Naperville pancake house in October 2008 was cast as both hero and villain Tuesday before a judge sentenced the restaurant’s owner to three years on probation for intentionally burning it to the ground.
Louis Pagonis rushed into the burning GiGi’s Restaurant in the 2700 block of Hassert Boulevard on Oct. 29, 2008, his wife told Will County Judge Carla A. Policandriotes, after he heard owner Peter Ladias cry out “Louie, please save me!”
Joanne Pagonis said Ladias invited her husband to the eatery around 10:30 that night, just before it blew up, and Pagonis saved Ladias’ life. But doctors gave Pagonis a 10 percent chance of survival after the fire, she said, and he lost a leg and has ongoing medical problems.
“I wonder if Ladias is remembering it as just something that happened on that day or as the day he destroyed the life of a man who risked his own life and saved his?” Joanne Pagonis, a former employee of Ladias’, said through tears. “I just wonder sometimes.”
When her emotional testimony ended Ladias, now 72, of Palos Hills explained exactly how he remembered it. He matter-of-factly told the judge that Pagonis helped him start the fire — standing on a ladder in the eatery that night and pouring buckets of gasoline on the restaurant’s coolers.
“He was on the ladder, and I’d hand it to him, and he poured it on top,” Ladias said.
Records show Pagonis is not facing criminal charges related to the fire. He’s suing Ladias, and his civil attorney “unequivocally” denied Ladias’ allegations. Pagonis and his family also couldn’t help but whisper denials in the courtroom gallery.
But Ladias pleaded guilty to the arson in March. He told the judge Tuesday he’s sunk to “the lowest point of my whole life.”
“I’m finished,” Ladias said.
Policandriotes sentenced Ladias to probation over the urging of Assistant State’s Attorney Dan Walsh, who sought a “significant” prison sentence. He said Ladias owned the restaurant and stood to gain from insurance payments if it burned down — regardless of whether Pagonis helped.
“He still has both of his legs,” Walsh said. “Mr. Pagonis does not.”
The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped a more serious aggravated arson charge when Ladias entered his guilty plea, though. That charge would have required Ladias to go to prison. The lesser charge meant Ladias was eligible for probation, and Policandriotes said she couldn’t justify under the law a more severe sentence for an elderly man with no criminal history.
Ladias said he was under tremendous pressure to make mortgage payments on the restaurant at the time of the fire, and he wasn’t thinking straight. He must now pay $3,757 in restitution to the Naperville Fire Department and register as an arson offender.
“I heard him express regret, dishonor, sorrow for the consequences of a choice that he made in despair,” Policandriotes said.
The GiGi’s explosion destroyed Ladias’ pancake house. He’s still receiving treatment for burns, defense attorney Steven Haney said, and he keeps a glove on his left hand in court.
The blast blew out some of the restaurant’s windows, and it damaged parts of the building’s roof and foundation. Authorities also said it set off an alarm at a nearby bank.