Thursday, March 20th, 2008
Former owners of burned Celina business convicted
By Margie Wuebker
A Celina couple appeared in Mercer County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday afternoon and entered no contest pleas to charges stemming from a May 2005 arson fire that heavily damaged their flooring business.
David W. and Druscilla R. Sloan, owners of the former Richardson's Floors and More, were subsequently convicted with sentencing set for April 23. The negotiated agreement, which culminated during the couple's final pretrial hearing, negates a May 6 jury trial.
As part of the agreement, 28-year-old David Sloan pleaded no contest to arson and insurance fraud, both fourth-degree felonies. Each charge carries the possibility of up to 18 months in prison and $5,000 fines.
His 32-year-old wife pleaded to an amended charge of attempted insurance fraud, a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine.
Each of the Sloans had been indicted on aggravated arson alleging they did by means of fire or explosion cause damage to an occupied building at 216 W. Fayette St.; two counts of arson alleging they knowingly created a substantial risk of physical harm to property with the purpose to defraud; and insurance fraud. As part of the negotiated agreement, the state agreed to dismiss the remaining charges but reserved the right to argue at sentencing.
Celina Fire Department responded May 10, 2005, after a passer-by spotted smoke coming from the brick building. Firefighters found flames and smoke coming from an overhead door at the rear as well as heavy smoke on the upper floors.
An investigation by fire department personnel and the Ohio State Fire Marshal's Office ruled out electrical boxes and systems near the point of origin - a storage area for remnants at the back of the building - as the cause. Investigators also determined a soldered joint in a water line running above the point of origin separated at some point with the open line helping to limit the size and progression of the fire.
The stipulation of facts signed by David Sloan indicates he set the fire before leaving the building at 4:55 p.m. but does not explain how the blaze started or whether an accelerant was used. The passer-by spotted smoke and alerted 911 approximately one hour later.
Further investigation re-vealed Druscilla Sloan had increased insurance coverage for the business from $50,000 to $100,000 with Celina Mutual Insurance on April 29, 2005. Later on June 20, she submitted an insurance claim for $59,679.10 affirming the loss was not intended, originated, created, planned or otherwise caused.
Celina Mutual subsequently denied the claim and made no payment. Building owner William Richardson had insurance with another company, which paid his loss claim.
The negotiated agreement also notes the state will not request restitution at the time of the sentencing due to the nature of the case and possible civil claims.
Judge Jeffrey Ingraham reiterated a statement made by Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox that the stipulation of facts applies solely for the purposes of the pleas and the defendants would deny such facts at a trial.