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Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Local man gets jail time for arson

By Shelley Grieshop
MINSTER - A 29-year-old man will serve six months in jail for burning down his former Minster home last year following a spat with his pregnant girlfriend.
Chad Bowers, formerly of Minster and now living in New Bremen, was placed on five years community control sanctions. He also was ordered to pay nearly $17,000 in fines and restitution during the sentence hearing Tuesday morning in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court.
Flanked by his attorney, John Poppe, Bowers briefly laid his head on the defendant's table and uttered a sigh after learning he avoided a prison sentence. Several of the half dozen supporters behind him in the courtroom erupted in tears.
Prior to sentencing, Bowers addressed the court.
"I want to apologize for everything I did," he said. "I've lost everything, your honor."
His family is all he has left, he said, and he pleaded for his freedom.
"I'm willing to do anything you ask me, your honor," he said, explaining that a prison sentence also would punish his 10-year-old and 4-month-old sons.
Bowers in January pleaded guilty to aggravated arson, a second-degree felony, which carries a maximum of eight years in prison. A more serious first-degree felony charge of aggravated arson was dismissed during plea negotiations.
Bowers admitted he was drunk Feb. 25, 2012, when he used a butane lighter to set his girlfriend's Teddy bear on fire on the garage steps after she went out drinking with friends. He then let his dog outside, took off his shoes and lay down in bed before returning to the garage sometime later.
Poppe said his client didn't intend to burn down his home at 31 W. Fifth St., Minster. The blaze quickly evolved into a "ball of fire" after igniting the fuel tank of a car in the garage, he said. Bowers fled the burning house about 11:30 p.m., and emergency responders arrived a few minutes later, reports state.
Bowers told Pepple he hasn't drunk alcohol in a year and regularly attends alcoholic support groups. His focus now is his sons and finding a job to support them, he said. It hasn't been easy; employers are hesitant to hire a convicted felon, he added.
Pepple appeared unsympathetic, particularly after Bowers acknowledged his homeowners' insurance was not seeking reimbursement for the $102,000 it paid against his mortgage for the fire damage. Bowers' insurance also provided him $4,000 for clothing and other items lost in the fire; the local American Red Cross chapter kicked in $400, court documents state.
The judge berated Bowers for risking the lives of firefighters by not telling them his girlfriend was away the night of the fire. Several rescuers reportedly entered the burning home, looking for her. Bowers argued he did tell them. County prosecutor Ed Pierce supported the story; firefighters chose not to rely on Bowers' statement since he was intoxicated and held a "tumultuous" relationship with his girlfriend, Pierce said.
Pepple also scolded Bowers for his alcohol-related criminal record, which includes charges of drunken driving and providing alcohol to his brother, a minor at the time.
The judge told both parties that sentencing for the second-degree felony charge carries a "presumption in favor of prison." He asked Pierce why the prosecution was willing to make a no-prison deal with Bowers.
"This is not a specific intent case," Pierce said, explaining that it appears Bowers' intention was only to burn his girlfriend's Teddy bear, not the home.
Bowers must pay $1,442.56 and a 5 percent surcharge to the State Fire Marshal's Office for their portion of the arson investigation. He also must pay a maximum $15,000 court fine and was given two years to pay all debts in full. Bowers is prohibited from drinking alcohol or being on premises where it is served, is subject to random drug/alcohol testing and must maintain counseling, according to conditions of the sentencing.
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