ELYRIA – Drew Manns pleaded guilty Monday to aggravated arson charges for setting a Feb. 18., 2009, fire that caused more than $8.4 million worth of damage to Lorain County Community College.
Manns, 29, could get up to eight years in prison when he is sentenced in November by county Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski.
Manns’ attorney, Jay Milano, said he plans to ask for a lenient sentence that includes treatment for his client’s mental health issues. Manns’ mother took an anti-acne drug while he was still in the womb, which led to Manns suffering brain damage.
“I think Drew Manns is a difficult case and an unfortunate young man,” Milano said. “He was damaged at birth through no fault of his own.”
County Prosecutor Dennis Will said while his office is willing to explore treatment as part of the sentence, depending on what medical evidence shows in the case, there also needs to be prison time for Manns.
“We’re going to argue for the strongest sentence possible,” Will said.
Manns is accused of setting the fire in maintenance tunnels that run beneath LCCC, where he wasn’t a student.
The college was storing desks, theater props and other items – described by fire officials as a fire hazard – in the tunnels and there was no fire suppression system in the area.
The fire burned for several minutes before the heavy smoke was noticed and firefighters were called in to put the fire out.
It took roughly three hours for firefighters from Elyria and other local fire departments to bring the blaze under control. Three firefighters were injured.
The college was closed for around a week while most of the cleanup and repairs were done, but some work stretched into 2012, college officials have said. The college paid a $5,000 deductible, but the rest was covered by insurance.
Prosecutors said Monday that they plan to have a restitution total that they want included as part of Manns’ sentence, but Milano said that even if restitution is ordered his client will never be able to pay it.
“He’s responsible for what happened, but how much he could pay back is a whole other story,” Milano said.
Manns still faces a theft charge that is pending before a county grand jury and Milano said he’s hopeful that case can be resolved before the sentencing.
Manns’ mother, Wanda Campolo, has said she doesn’t want her son charged for allegedly stealing $7,750 from her bank accounts in July. Manns has acknowledged taking the money, but insisted that it was his money.
He has been jailed since being arrested a few days after his mother contacted police and prosecutors and warned her son might have fled the area. Manns, who was arrested at the Sunset motel in New Russia Township, has denied he planned to run.
Shortly after the 2009 fire Manns was sentenced to three years in prison including charges for escaping from the Lorain/Medina Community Based Correctional Facility in 2007. He was recaptured following a three-hour standoff with Elyria police at his parents’ home, but later escaped from EMH Medical Center in Elyria. He was caught an hour later hiding in a trash bin.
The three-year prison sentence also covered charges that he illegally tried to purchase a gun and threw urine at fellow Lorain County Jail inmate. He was freed from prison in October 2011 and was indicted in the arson case in July 2012.
He also has a previous arson conviction from when he was a juvenile.