School Closings And Delays

Victims’ Family Finds Closure in Homicide Arson Guilty Plea

WILKES-BARRE -- A man from Wilkes-Barre has pleaded guilty in connection with a fire that killed a mother and her 23-year-old daughter.

The family says it's been eight years of agony without mother Nancy Kostelnick and her daughter Carolyn but after Joseph Derhammer's sentencing Thursday afternoon, they say they finally have the closure they've needed for the past decade.

Joseph Derhammer, 46, had nothing to say after he pleaded guilty to intentionally setting a fire that killed a mother and daughter in Wilkes-Barre.

Officials say Nancy Kostelnick and her 23-year-old daughter Carolyn were found five feet apart back in 2009. They were heard screaming and coughing when they called for help.

"Some of the things we had to listen to in there, nobody should ever have to do that to a family member, nobody," said Cherri Swainbank, the victims' sister and aunt.

In court, Derhammer said he was angry that Nancy, "didn't want to be with me, she wanted to be with another guy."

Neighbors saw him at the home 15 minutes before the 911 call was placed.

"It's hard to hard to live without a mother and a sister. Every day I wish I could pick up the phone just to talk to them again, to (hear) her voice," said Nikki Ford, the victims' daughter and sister.

The family says Nancy was a loving mom and Carolyn was a thoughtful daughter.

"Nancy would do anything for anybody. If you called her and said, 'I need to be somewhere in ten minutes,' she'd be right there, C.J. was the same way," said Cheri.

Even though the family will never be able to get back what Derhammer took away, the assistant district attorney says Wilkes-Barre is a safer place without Derhammer on the streets.

"We don't have to go to put the family through a trial. They don't have to drudge up these terrible memories and we do get the end result that everybody wanted, which is for him to be held responsible for what he did," said Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Nancy Violi.

And even though Derhammer admitted to his crimes, the family says they'll never be able to forgive him.

"My kids ask all the time why, why? In the courtroom that was one of my questions and he didn't show any kind of remorse," said Nikki.

And even though the family feels they do have the closure they need, they still have so many unanswered questions about the deaths of their loved ones.