December 06, 2023
Premium | Sauk Valley


Rock Falls man facing 10 counts of murder, arson in Sterling apartment building fire

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MORRISON – The Rock Falls man accused of deliberately setting a fatal apartment complex fire in a drug deal that went awry, killing two children and a woman, is facing 10 felony arson and murder charges, many of which could put him away for life.

Steven W. Coleman, 40, a longtime felon who was out on parole at the time of the fire, was charged Friday afternoon with six counts of murder, each punishable by 20 to 60 years, or up to life in prison, and four arson-related charges, three that carry 6 to 30 years in prison and one that carries 4 to 15 years.

He is in Whiteside County jail on $1 million bond, and has a preliminary hearing June 22.

Coleman is charged with three counts of murder while committing a “forcible felony,” which in this case would be aggravated arson, and with three counts of murder done while committing actions he knew had “strong probability” of causing death or great bodily harm to another.

The prosecution would need to prove he committed aggravated arson for him to be convicted of the first three charges; three of the arson counts are aggravated, all with different elements that need to be proven.

If, however, the jury fails to find Coleman guilty of aggravated arson, it still can consider the other three murder charges.

He can be found guilty only of up to three of them.

Police say the fire was deliberately set around 12:30 a.m. Monday at Western Apartments, 908 W. Fourth St, just west of the downtown. The complex has two two-story buildings; the fire was set to the southside building.

The motive was a drug deal gone bad, Detective Sgt. Pat Bartel has said.

Celina Serrano, 13, and her cousin, Shayla Walker, 8, of Davenport, died at the scene. Neighbor Carrie A. (Hall) Hose, 49, also was killed.

Celina's mother, Alma Walker, 35, and her sister, 12-year-old Teleah Serrano, were injured. Walker remains in critical condition at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, a spokesman said this afternoon.

Teleah was released to the care her grandmother, who also is taking care of Walker's son, Eric.

Nine other occupants escaped.

Coleman has a long history of felony convictions in the Sauk Valley, dating back to the mid-1990s.

In Lee County, he was sentenced to 4 years after stealing 923 pounds of cut copper and two internally cooled welding wheels, worth $10,000 to $100,000, from SGS Refrigeration in 2016. He also was sentenced to 3 years for aggravated DUI in 2017. He was paroled on those charges on Oct. 22, Illinois Department of Corrections records show.

In Whiteside County, he was sentenced to 2 years for criminal damage to property in a 2017 case; his parole included that sentence as well.

He was also sentenced in Whiteside County to 2 years for dealing cocaine in 2007, 5½ years for robbery in 2004, 2½ years for aggravated battery and damaging property in 2002; 2½ years for theft and being a felon in possession and use of a firearm in 1999, 3 years possession of a controlled substance in 1998, and 4 years for residential burglary in 1997.

In Carroll County, Coleman was sentenced to two 10-year terms for dealing cocaine, 6 years for possession of marijuana, and a year for aggravated DUI, all to run concurrently, in 2009.