Insurance company sues Austintown man to recoup arson costs

Austintown man set fire at church

YOUNGSTOWN — The Mennonite Mutual Insurance Co. of Orrville is suing an Austintown man over damages from a March 2023 fire that the lawsuit claims he started at Valley Christian Church in Boardman.

According to The Vindicator archives, Jacob L. Richards, 19, of Nantucket Drive, was arrested in April 2023 on an arson charge related to a call to the church, 7155 Glenwood Avenue, for a fire. Court records show he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor arson in Mahoning County Area Court in Boardman in the case.

The lawsuit, filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, states the company paid $212,996 to the church as a result of damages from the fire.

The suit claims after Richards pleaded guilty May 4, 2023, he agreed to pay restitution of $1,000 to the church. “However, no monies for restitution for Mennonite Mutual Insurance Co., were ordered by the court,” the lawsuit claims.

Court records show Richards paid $100 to the court 10 times — once a month from June to March.

They also show Richards was fined $250, ordered to pay costs of $71 and was sentenced to 180 days in the Mahoning County jail, with 173 days suspended and credit given for seven days spent in the jail awaiting trial.

Judge Joseph Houser sentenced Richards to 36 months of probation and ordered him to pay $1,000 to the church. The judge also ordered Richards to get a mental health assessment and follow all recommended treatment.

The lawsuit states that Richards “caused a fire at the church by igniting a bale of hay that was near the church building.”

A Boardman police report states video surveillance shows a man walk up to the church, light a lighter and stick it in bales of straw near a church entrance at 5:57 p.m. As the flames grew, the man looked back once, then continued onward, the report states.

The fire caused extensive damage to the door entrance and part of the entrance hallway, the report states. On April 4, 2023, police were advised that “the suspect in this investigation was in the rear parking lot of a business adjacent to the church,” according to the Boardman police report.

When officers arrived, they spoke to Richards in the rear parking lot and told him they wanted to talk to him about a recent incident at the church, and Richards said “Oh, it’s about the fire.” He was read his rights and told officers he was “in the area on the night of the fire,” but “he only walked past the church,” the report states.

After the detective in the case interviewed Richards, Richards was taken into custody and charged with felony arson. Richards also told an officer he was “only trying to catch the bale of hay on fire which was outside the door of the church.”


The lawsuit claims Richards is liable for the fire and damage it caused. The insurance company “was required to pay to their insured the amount of $212,996, in addition to expenses incurred due to the claim.” Also, the church paid its deductible of $1,000 under the policy, the lawsuit states.

The suit seeks a judgment against Richards “in excess of $25,000 together with costs, interest and other relief this court deems appropriate.”

Attorney Anthony Meranto was Richards’ attorney in the criminal case. A message left with him seeking Richards’ telephone number to contact him for comment on the lawsuit was not returned.


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