November 28, 2014

Elyria
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Five years for ’09 fire at LCCC

Drew Manns reacts as the judge sentences him to 5 years in prison for the fire that did more than $8 million to the campus of Lorain County Community College. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Drew Manns reacts as the judge sentences him to 5 years in prison for the fire that did more than $8 million to the campus of Lorain County Community College. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — Drew Manns hung his head and sobbed as Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski sentenced him Friday 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 several 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 went to the college for his GED class early on 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 her, so he went down in the tunnels — which were full of furniture and other items the college was storing there — to smoke a cigarette.

Realizing he needed to return to class, Manns said he dropped the cigarette and left.

“I dropped the cigarette and I walked off, and I went back upstairs. Next thing I know, the whole college was filled with smoke. I didn’t want to hurt nobody,” Manns said.

“I didn’t mean for that fire to happen. It was purely accidental. Careless, ’cause I didn’t smoke outside like I was supposed to, but never did I intend for a $8.5 million damage to happen.”

Manns also pleaded with Betleski to allow him to remain free, return home and marry his fiance.

“Let me prove to the court that I’m not what my past says I am,” he said. “I want to change my future.”

Manns has an extensive criminal record that stretches to his youth, including starting a fire in a Chinese restaurant when he was 12 years old. Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Dezort said Manns later admitted that fire was intentionally set because he was upset with a girlfriend.

That blaze, Dezort said, was also caused by a cigarette, which made her question whether the LCCC fire was accidental.

“He certainly knew the consequences of throwing a lit cigarette down,” she said.

Shortly after the LCCC fire, in which three firefighters were injured by heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, Manns was sentenced to the prison time for a string of unrelated crimes, including his 2007 escape from the Lorain/Medina Community Based Correctional Facility and his attempts to illegally purchase a handgun.

Manns has had other troubles since his release from prison in 2011, including the loss of his son, who died just days after being born, something Manns said sent him into a spiral of drug and alcohol abuse. He also was accused of stealing from his mother, Wanda Campolo, who later asked for a theft charge against her son to be dropped.

Campolo described the years she’s spent dealing with her son’s troubled fortunes, which can be traced to brain damage he suffered in the womb because she took the anti-acne drug Accutane while she was pregnant with him.

But she also said that she didn’t know that if her son got into trouble again whether she would come to court to support him again.

Forensic psychologist James Eisenberg testified during the hearing that Manns suffers from “fragile X syndrome,” which he believes is the main cause of Manns’ impulse control issues and poor judgment.

Manns also suffers from attention deficit disorder, is bipolar, has substance abuse issues and might be schizophrenic, Eisenberg said.

Although he concluded that Manns isn’t at risk for committing violence against people, Eisenberg said that there’s no cure for Manns’ mental health problems. The best that can be hoped for, he said, is to keep those issues under control.

Dezort said while she was sympathetic to Manns’ plight, that didn’t absolve him of responsibility for his actions. She said that even when Manns is taking his medication, there’s a chance he could stop doing so.

When things go wrong in Manns’ life, Dezort said, he does things that endanger society. That’s what happened with the LCCC fire, she said.

“He gets angry, he goes downstairs and poof, we have a fire,” Dezort said.

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. Milano had pushed for Manns to receive house arrest and probation in the case.

“He’s paying a price for something he essentially had no control over,” Milano said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.


  • Macdaddyoh

    Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to smoke? Remember, mom knows best.

  • Simon Jester

    5 years is appropriate, kid needs some time to cool his heels.

  • Pam Nichols

    I thank you for not talking crap about the man i love.

    • Pablo Jones

      You will be better off if you found someone else. Next time you make him upset it could be the house you are in that he burns down.

    • beety

      You found this guy a suitable father for your child? Are you mentally disabled as well? Not trying to be mean girl, but really? I’m sorry you lost your son . Maybe this is a chance for both of you to do better… he already started a fire the same way and didn’t know how it could happen? If he knew enough to try to get his GED then he knew….

      • Pam Nichols

        He took care of me when complications almost killed me and no i don’t have mental disabilities i believe if he wouldn’t have been there i would be dead too. He was a great dad

    • Guest

      I’m sorry you found it suitable to breed with this idiot.

  • Pam Nichols

    I stand behind my man by the way i didn’t piss him off we weren’t together when that happened everyone deserves a chance in life and love

    • Pablo Jones

      Sure everyone deserves a chance for a good life and love, when they are born. The decisions they make throughout their life determine whether they still deserve it. But if you feel he is the best for you, then you probably didn’t make the best decisions in your life either.

    • SpaceTech

      Sorry missy, just how many chances is your man supposed to get to show he can be a grown up adult without losing control of his emotions and his temper?
      Lets see? extensive criminal history, two convictions of arson, multiple convictions of drug posession?
      It would be nice if the 5yrs in PRISON could teach him how to grow up but that won’t happen either.
      I would advise you to move along and find another baby daddy and try not to get busted trying to smuggle contraband to him in PRISON.

  • DonMega

    You think he is cring now wait until he goes to the big house,his but is the only thing thats gonna be smokin.

  • Sabine Cooper-Bias

    hang in there pam Nichols , don’t listen or read all this crap what these hateful people are saying about your man, everybody makes mistakes in their lives . 5 yrs goes by quick just stay strong and be there for him if you can, he deffently regrets his mistakes by showing his reactions in court….most man don’t cry , but your man got feelings…..I pray for you and your family that this goes by quick for all of you and you all can start a new life again . and put everything behind you…..just keep your Faith….Bless you….

    • jz

      He already has 4 and a half years jail credit. He only has 6 months yet to serve.

      • SpaceTech

        Wrong, “Manns is serving prison time for a string of unrelated crimes, including his 2007 escape from the Lorain/Medina Community Based Correctional Facility and his attempts to illegally purchase a handgun”
        The 5 yr sentence should be in addition to the time he was serving for the OTHER crimes he has been convicted of.