About 13 years after a Pennsylvania man set his house on fire with his three children and wife inside, killing her, a Lancaster County judge sentenced him to plus 20 years in prison.
Carlos Montalvo-Rivera, 55, was convicted of first-degree murder, arson, risking catastrophe, and three counts of attempted criminal homicide for the December 2010 blaze, during which he tied himself up in an effort to look like a victim of the crime rather than the perpetrator, according to prosecutors.
“This was an absolutely brutal and heinous crime that involved multiple victims,” Assistant District Attorney Christine Wilson said during a sentencing hearing this week. “It was a cold-blooded murder. Even though the defendant refuses to admit accountability for his actions, he’s been found guilty by a jury of his peers.”
Montalvo-Rivera claimed intruders had broken into his home, killed his wife, Olga Sanchez-Reyes, and set his home on fire.
He said he had been sleeping when he awoke to the smell of smoke and the sound of his wife arguing with a man, at which point he said he had been struck in the head and lost consciousness. Montalvo-Rivera told investigators he had awoken 45 minutes later to find his hands tied up and his home on fire.
He suggested the intruders were retaliating against his brother, who had cooperated with the Drug Enforcement Administration in an unrelated matter, but a nine-year investigation proved otherwise, and Montalvo-Rivera was arrested and charged in 2019.
“The lame story you concocted and continued to hold onto simply didn’t hold any water,” Judge Dennis Reinaker said during Wednesday’s hearing. “The jury didn’t believe you, and I think that’s how it should be.”
Prosecutors said Montalvo-Rivera killed his wife, poured gasoline up the stairs in their North Plum Street home up to her bedroom, set the home on fire while their three children — ages eight, nine and 13 — were on the third floor and escaped out a door on the first floor. He then tied himself up to play the part of a victim.
“Justice has been delayed, but the victim’s family has finally received it,” Wilson said.
Montalvo-Rivera’s eight- and nine-year-old daughters were transported to a hospital in critical condition after the fire, and his 13-year-old son also received treatment, according to a 2010 article from Lancaster Online.
A neighbor labeled a “hero” that morning, Jonathan Santiago, overheard children screaming, “Someone help us!” from the roof of Montalvo-Rivera’s home as flames erupted through it around 5 a.m.
He recruited some neighbors to help him reach the roof of a nearby home through an attic window, from which he was able to scale four adjacent roofs to reach and rescue the two children on the roof of Montalvo-Riveras’ home, Lancaster Online reported.
“Had it not been for the brave actions of a neighbor, the incident would have likely been even more tragic, as he helped save the lives of two of the children by assisting them to safety from the burning building,” the Lancaster Police Bureau said in a 2019 news release announcing Montalvo-Rivera’s arrest.