Man arrested in San Diego Orthodox church fire

By Sandra Dibble

San Diego, CA, February 3, 2013

A 38-year-old man was being held Sunday on suspicion of arson after an early-morning fire caused heavy damage to a Greek Orthodox Church in unincorporated El Cajon.

Darin Williams, who had been renting a room from one of the church’s parishioners, faces charges of arson, burglary and committing a hate crime in connection with the 4 a.m. fire at St. Gregory of Nyssa Greek Orthodox Christian Church, off Jamacha Road near Hidden Mesa Road.

The Rev. Simeon Corona said the blaze originated in an outdoor patio area adjacent to a house where members worshipped. Firefighters punched holes in the ceiling of the main house after smoke spread to the attic, Corona said.

The blaze, which was reported by a neighbor, was extinguished after about 45 minutes, according to the Cal Fire/San Miguel Fire District, whose crews put out the blaze in collaboration with firefighters from Heartland Fire and the Lakeside Fire Protection District.

There were no injuries. Early estimates of the damage to the structure and its contents totaled close to $250,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff’s Arson Unit.

On Sunday morning, children and adults bundled up for the cold weather gathered for their regular weekly service. They sat outside, facing a makeshift altar set up in the church’s garage with some icons and vestments rescued from the fire.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said member Chris Psillas. “But nobody was hurt. This is all repairable.”

The church, founded about 20 years ago, has about 80 families, Corona said, with between 60 and 80 people who normally attend services.

The church had been using the house for the past six years, Psillas said, with plans to eventually build a permanent church building on the site. He said the building is insured.

The Sheriff’s Department reported Sunday that the investigation was continuing, and detectives were working with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine how the suspected arson blaze was set. The Sheriff’s Department did not discuss what might have prompted Williams to set the fire.

Corona said he has known Williams for a dozen years and described him as “a troubled man” who has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. Corona said he had arranged for Williams to live at the house of a parishioner.

Corona said he had been overseeing Williams’ financial situation for the past year and was in charge of receiving Williams’ checks and paying his bills.

Williams was released this month from a psychiatric institution and had regained control of his finances, Corona said. The priest said Williams became upset when Corona told him that he could no longer stay at the parishioner’s house if he did not continue taking his medications.

Williams is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

U-T San Diego


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