BRIDGETON — The man who orchestrated the 2010 Loyle Lanes arson stood with a small smile on his face as he waited to be sentenced in Superior Court on Friday for the crime.
There were no smiles on the faces of the Loyle family, as some of its members told the court how Steven Smink’s actions tore them apart financially and damaged their lives forever.
Michael Loyle, who ran the Vineland bowling alley’s daily operations, said support from the community turned from “heartwarming” to anger over the family’s decision not to rebuild the business. Loyle said he wound up limiting his shopping and avoided public places to miss confrontations with some former customers.
“I couldn’t understand why people were attacking me when it was me and my family who lost the business,” Michael Loyle told Superior Court Judge Robert Malestein. “It took a while and many more questions and confrontations before I realized why so many people were so upset.
“Loyle Lanes belonged the community,” he said. “How dare we take that away from them. By not rebuilding, evil triumphed over good, and that was not how this story was supposed to end. It was at that moment that I realized the magnitude of what Mr. Smink had done.”
Given his chance to address the court, Smink said, “I’m fine, your honor.”
Smink turned and looked at the people in the audience as he was being led from the courtroom. He winked at some of them, including one woman who identified herself as his daughter.
Malestein sentenced Smink, of Philadelphia, to 10 years in state prison on a charge of aggravated arson. The sentenced stipulates that Smink serve 85 percent of that sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
The judge also sentenced Smink to five years in state prison on a charge of conspiracy to commit arson. The sentence runs consecutive to the penalty imposed on the aggravated arson charge.
Malestein said Smink’s actions to destroy competition in the hope of Smink salvaging his financially-struggling bowling alley in Deerfield Township were done in a spirit of “desperation and greed.”
“This is a perfect example of how all criminal matters are considered to be a crime against the state,” Malestein said. “By state, we mean the people. There has been a tremendous sense of loss in the community. I think you would be hard-pressed to find any member of any family that has children … that did not attend a birthday party at Loyle Lanes.”
Smink was to be sentenced April 4. He was to be in court at 8:45 a.m., but didn’t arrive until about 2:15 p.m. Malestein wound up revoking Smink’s $400,000 bail, which was put up by a bail bondsman, and remanded Smink to the county jail.
Malestein, not knowing when Smink would arrive, had sent Loyle family members, who had been waiting for hours for the proceeding, home at 12:30 p.m.
Cumberland County First Assistant Prosecutor Harold Shapiro said Smink’s lateness was an example of the defendant’s “lack of human sensitivity that we should all have for one another.”
“Mr Smink is a great big, giant gutterball,” Shapiro said.
When he pleaded guilty in January, Smink admitted to buying the gasoline and kerosene cans, accelerants and drill used to torch Loyle Lanes in January 2010. He also admitted buying a cell phone that day to keep in touch with his co-defendants about the arson plan, and said the fire started when flares were dropped onto accelerants that had been poured through holes drilled in the bowling ally’s roof.
Before Malestein pronounced sentence on Friday, the prosecution showed a video of the burned remains of the Loyle’s 50-year-old business on Delsea Drive. The video was accompanied by John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” Some members of the Loyle family cried as they watched the video.
In his remarks to the court, former owner Charles Loyle, who helped start the business, said the loss of the bowling alley cause some older family members to adjust their retirement plans. Younger family members continue to look for a way to adequately support their families financially, he said.
“They have had difficulty replacing their income source,” he said.
Chuck Loyle said Smink’s “selfish, destructive act” left the Loyle family with no legacy to hand down.
“Who does that?” he said of Smink’s actions. “My children, the third generation, will not have the chance to be in the bowling business.”
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