WARNING: The contents of this story may be distressing to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

THE arsonist responsible for the Black Saturday bushfires was released from prison last Tuesday, (April 30).

Brendan Sokaluk (now 54-years-old) was released on parole, after serving 14 years of his 17-year, nine-month sentence.

His release comes under the condition that he stays 80 kilometres or more away from his former hometown of Churchill.

Sokaluk was arrested on February 12, 2009, and brought in for questioning at the Morwell police station.

The following day, he was charged with one count each of arson causing death, intentionally lighting a bushfire and possession of child pornography.

Days later, the suppression order was lifted and Sokaluk was named as the accused arsonist.

He was given leniency for having autism and a borderline intellectual disability, discovered after his arrest.

Mr Sokaluk was found guilty of 10 counts of arson causing death in 2012, for starting multiple fires that contributed to the Black Saturday disaster in February 2009.

Sokaluk was an ex-volunteer firefighter, but on the day of the fires, was caught gambling and buying cigarettes before being found at the scene after calling Triple Zero (000).

The 42-year-old explained in 2009 that he smoked while driving, and wrapped his lit cigarette in paper before throwing it out of the window, not knowing it was lit.

Sokaluk described the incident as “a stupid accident”.

A Victoria Police spokesperson said they are aware of the convicted arsonist’s release, mentioning they will remain proactive in monitoring those in the community who have a history of high-risk offending, with the safety of the community their number one concern.

Mr Sokaluk was found to be responsible for 11 deaths for the fire he started in the Churchill region and is believed to have had his hand in more than 30,000 hectares of burnt land and 156 homes that were destroyed, threatening 12 towns.

It is unknown where Mr Sokaluk will reside following his release.


LAST week was a busy one for Latrobe Valley major crime cases, with disqualified driver, Brenton Brown, pleading guilty to multiple charges relating to a hit-and-run that took an innocent woman’s life.

On May 2, 2023, the 31-year-old Morwell man, out on bail for unrelated matters, veered onto the wrong side of Purvis Road in Tanjil South and struck 59-year-old Moe resident Carol-Anne Jones in her car while driving at around 4.30pm.

Ms Jones was left trapped in her Hyundai Hatch with life-threatening injuries as Brown fled the scene, twice, coming back to remove his ID from his Nissan Patrol. He did not report the incident.

The court was told how Brown, allegedly in shock, attempted to flag down help from neighbouring properties.

The Herald Sun reported that Brown fled to an adjacent property before phoning the owner of the Nissan Patrol, who informed police that his car had been stolen.

Brown then ran to another property, informed the homeowner about the crash and urged him to contact 000, but that individual couldn’t find a phone.

The Herald Sun reported to the court that Brown asked the man from that nearby home to take him to the collision scene, where he picked up his identity cards from the Nissan Patrol before getting dropped off in Newborough. Ms Jones, a beloved daughter, sister and friend, was flown to The Alfred Hospital, where she later succumbed to her injuries and died 17 days later.

Brown pleaded guilty in the Latrobe Valley County Court on Tuesday, April 30 to charges of dangerous driving causing death, failing to stop after an accident, failing to render assistance, committing an offence while on bail, driving while disqualified and driving an unregistered vehicle.

Ms Jones was remembered as a kind and caring woman who loved her elderly parents dearly, they said in a victim impact statement read out in the court room.

It has been reported that Brown has apologised to the Jones family and has voiced his remorse and regret.

Brown was injured in an unexplained gunshot two months before the collision and showed up at Latrobe Valley Hospital.

He did not cooperate with investigators looking into what occurred to him, nor did he report the incident to the police. Brown has been remanded in custody and is set to be sentenced on Friday, May 10.

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