ELYRIA – Drew Manns hung his head and sobbed as Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski sentenced him today to five years in prison for starting a Feb. 18, 2009, fire that caused more than $8.4 million in damage to Lorain County Community College.
“Oh my God,” Manns said as some members of his family broke down behind him.
Manns, 29, had said earlier in the hearing that he never meant to start the fire, which began in the tunnels running beneath the campus.
He said he had gone to the college for his GED class early the day of the fire because of an argument with his stepfather. Manns said when his teacher arrived she became upset with him for getting there before him, so he went down in the tunnels to smoke a cigarette.
When he realized he needed to get to class, Manns said he tossed the cigarette and didn’t know about the fire until the campus filled with smoke.
Manns’ attorneys, family and a mental health expert had tried to persuade Betleski not to send Manns to prison, arguing instead for house arrest and strong probation. They pointed to Manns’ mental health problems – he suffered brain damage while in the womb because of an anti-acne drug his mother was taking – as the cause of his impulse control problems.
But Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Dezort said that while she was sympathetic to Manns’ plight, that didn’t absolve him of responsibility. She also questioned whether Manns’ description of the fire as accidental was accurate.
Following the hearing, Manns’ attorney Jay Milano said the fact that there exists no place for his client to go for treatment is a tragedy.
“He’s paying a price for something he essentially had no control over,” Milano said.
Read Saturday’s Chronicle for more on this story.