Arson suspect presented with plea offer

J Swygart, The Lima News, Ohio
·2 min read

Mar. 18—LIMA — One of two Lima men charged with aggravated arson for allegedly setting fire to a Shawnee township residence has been offered the chance to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Prosecutors have given Jason Raines until April 12 to accept an offer to plead guilty to a fourth-degree felony charge of arson. A trial date of April 26 has been set for Raines. He was indicted in October 2020 on a second-degree felony count of aggravated arson.

On June 6, 2020, the Shawnee Fire Department was dispatched to 2975 South Dixie Highway in response to a structure fire at the residence of Jack Cornelius.

According to court documents, Investigator Matt Meyers of the Shawnee Township Fire Department determined the fire was suspicious in nature. Evidence indicated the fire started on the ground floor, away from obvious and normal sources of accidental ignition.

The investigation revealed Cornelius and Timothy Messer had an ongoing feud involving a common girlfriend — Susan Walendzik — along with an allegation of money owned to Messer.

Raines, 51, and Messer were reportedly at 2975 S. Dixie Highway driving Messer's red Dodge pickup truck in the days preceding the fire. Messer reportedly told Cornelius he would "go down" with Walendzik if she didn't pay Messer the money she owed him.

Video recovered from a petroleum terminal across the street from the victim's residence showed a red Dodge pickup truck arrive at the residence at 11:54 p.m. June 5, 2020. The pickup was recorded leaving with its lights off at 11:58 p.m. Seven minutes later, the video recorded what appeared to be a firelight coming from the structure. Fire department personnel arrived at 12:10 a.m. June 6.

Walendzik told investigators that Messer and Raines had been at her house in a red Dodge pickup the week prior to the fire. They yelled threats to her from the road, she told police.

A scheduled hearing for Messer on Thursday morning was continued.

Walendzik has her own legal problems. She was indicted in January on a single count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a felony of the first degree; 13 counts of trafficking in persons/commercial sex acts, also first-degree felonies; and one count of promoting prostitution, a felony of the fourth degree.