WAPAKONETA — A 20-year-old Wapakoneta man who had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to starting a fire at a downtown Wapakoneta apartment building that left dozens of persons homeless has changed his plea.
Wesley Slaughter will be sentenced later this year to a recommended prison term of 19 years after pleading guilty Wednesday in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court to four counts of aggravated arson, first-degree felonies, and one count of second-degree felony aggravated arson.
Wapakoneta firefighters were dispatched shortly after 11 p.m. Dec. 23 to the Koneta Hotel, 1 Perry St., which housed two dozen occupants. Firemen found smoke coming from several windows of the building and flames coming from an apartment on the front of the structure. Slaughter was arrested the following morning and was charged with starting the blaze. He was indicted by a grand jury in January.
Slaughter walked on U.S. 33 near the intersection of county Road 33A at approximately 2 a.m. Dec. 24 when he was stopped by a trooper from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. As the trooper approached, Slaughter “dropped to the ground and began acting in a weird manner, which included him mentioning he was going to the gates of hell,” according to court documents. In response to questioning, Slaughter also reportedly indicated he was attempting to go to Botkins and “jump off a cliff in order to kill himself.”
Auglaize County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Pierce said the four first-degree felony counts returned by the grand jury against Slaughter were filed on behalf of individuals who were placed at risk of serious physical harm due to Slaughter’s actions.
“Count one is on behalf of the second-floor occupants (of the hotel); count two is for the third-floor residents; count three is on behalf of Wapakoneta Police Department officers, who entered the building to assist residents; and count four is on behalf of Wapakoneta firefighters and the state fire marshal, who also were placed at risk,” Pierce said. “Count five was for damage to the building.”
The former hotel has since been demolished after sustaining substantial structural damage in the fire.
The prosecutor said discussions had been ongoing with Slaughter’s court-appointed attorney for some time and culminated Wednesday when Attorney Gerald Siesel withdrew previously entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity on behalf of his client. Pierce said a recommended prison sentence of 19 years was agreed upon by the attorneys.
“We are so fortunate that no one suffered any serious injury as a result of this fire,” Pierce said. “There was one Wapakoneta police officer who had a little smoke inhalation, but that’s about it. But there were people who were still in their apartments after this fire was fully going who had come out into hallways filled with smoke and had to crawl to safety. It’s just very fortunate that no one was injured.
“The bad part,” Pierce continued, “is that these people lost everything. And it was due in large part to the kindness of this community that there were able to get back on their feet.”
No sentencing date for Slaughter has as yet been set. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered.