NEW ALBANY — A Floyds Knobs teen who was charged as an adult after police say he set a fire at his home that later led to the death of a family member has pleaded guilty.
Adam Hersker, 14, was charged earlier this month with a level 2 felony for arson causing bodily harm after he told police he purposely poured gasoline on the carpet in his home and set it on fire in June 19, following an argument.
Mike Hersker, the teen's uncle who was raising him and two other children with his wife, sustained burns over 80 to 90 percent of his arms and legs, and died July 4 as a result of his injuries.
Hersker's charge could have carried between 10 and 30 years; he entered a plea agreement Tuesday in Floyd County for the advisory of 17 1/2 years. Floyd County Circuit Court Judge Terrence Cody accepted Hersker's new guilty plea, but has taken the sentence under advisement. A hearing on the matter is set for Sept. 25 at 1:30 p.m., court records show.
Following the fire, friends of the family have united to raise money to rebuild the family's home — which was lost to the fire — and to start a $30,000 trust fund for the children's education, following the loss of their adopted father. As of Wednesday, the 10-person "Help Hersker Committee" had raised more than half of the goal for the education fund.
"It's just a totally tragic situation," David Blankenbeker, a friend of the family, said. "Mike was a very good man, a good friend of mine."
Blankenbeker said he met Hersker about 20 years ago, as both were in the home building business.
"When I learned what he did that kind of fit with what I did and as we talked I realized we had a lot in common," Blankenbeker said. "Mike was a great guy and a good friend and I could rely on him."
Hersker was also a U.S. Army veteran in the Airborne Infantry who grew up in Shepherdsville.
Blankenbeker described the house as "a total loss; they lost all their possessions they had no clothes they had nothing left at all," he said. "Of course losing Mike was the biggest thing."
A letter sent out requesting help to rebuild the family's home acknowledges the tremendous support the community showed from the start.
"Numerous friends have come together to provide cash for the family to pay for funeral expenses, food and clothing and other necessities for daily living," it reads, in part. "They have been provided temporary residence but it is unclear at this time how and when they will be able to build back the home they lost."
Blankenbeker said there's something to be gleaned from the tragedy — the rallying of people who are stepping up in the community to help, some who were close to the family, some who didn't know them at all.
"What it says to me is that Mike was loved by so many people and that everybody wants to help [the family] recover from this situation as best they can," he said. "It's never going to be the same but we want to help as best we can."