November 1, 2014

Medina
Rain
41°F

Convicted arsonists must register with sheriff

MEDINA — If three Medina County residents charged with felony arson last month are convicted, they’ll be among the first to register with the county Sheriff’s Office as part of a new state law that became effective July 1.

Davon L. Phillips, 19, of Medina; Robert C. Buck, 55, of Chippewa Lake; and Jill Tucker, 58, of Wadsworth — each accused of aggravated arson, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 11 years in prison — would have to register yearly for the rest of their lives.

Davon Phillips

Robert Buck

Jill Tucker

Failure to register is a fifth-degree felony with a maximum penalty of a year in prison, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said.

Phillips is accused of setting Medina High School’s Performing Arts Center on fire. Buck and Tucker are charged with torching their own homes.

The arson registry, similar to Ohio’s sex offender registry, became law in December and keeps track of addresses and fingerprints of anyone convicted of arson or who had arson charges dropped or reduced as part of a plea deal, county Sheriff Tom Miller said.

“The idea is that arsonists move around,” he said, “and some people believe that it’s such a serious offense that we needed something to track them.”

Miller said the main purpose of the registry is to aid investigators in solving arson-related crimes.

“They can see who’s in the area who committed that crime before,” he said, “so it gives them a good starting point.”

Miller said a deputy would attend a training session this month to learn to use the database.

The registry is maintained by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Unlike the sex offender registry, the arson registry will not be open to the public. It is for investigators only.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he hoped it would hasten arson investigations.

“Now, investigators will be able to look at an arson scene and quickly determine if any convicted arsonists live nearby,” DeWine said.

The database only will include arsonists who started probation or were released from jail or prison starting July 1, a DeWine spokeswoman said.

Convicted arsonists are required to pay a $50 fee at their first registration and $25 in subsequent years. The fees will go toward maintaining the registry.

Ohio joins only two other states, California and Louisiana, that have similar databases.

So far this year, the state fire marshal has ruled 52 fires as intentional.

Since 2000, the state averaged 383 arsons each year, but only 137 were solved per year.

A spokesman said there probably were more because some larger municipalities have their own marshals and don’t report to the state.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.