LIMA — A Lima man was taken into custody Wednesday on a preliminary charge of suspicion of aggravated arson in connection with a Tuesday evening fire that destroyed a vacant downtown building.
Jeff England, 40, who is listed in court records earlier this month as being homeless, is the lone suspect to be identified by police for his alleged role in a fire that destroyed the 100-year-old structure that most recently housed Roxy Food & Spirits.
The building is said to be a total loss, and the city of Lima made arrangements to have the structure torn down for the safety of the public, according to a statement from the Lima Police Department. The demolition began Wednesday afternoon.
Firefighters were dispatched at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday to 122 N. Elizabeth St. and found heavy fire and smoke coming from multiple windows on the third floor of the vacant building. Firefighters began an offensive attack on the fire but were forced to retreat after the building was deemed to be unsafe for firefighters to enter.
A Lima Fire Department spokesman said there were unconfirmed reports that homeless people may have been inside the building, but when the roof began to cave in it became “unsafe to search” for any victims. It is still unknown if anyone was inside the structure at the time of the fire.
A second crew from the LFD was summoned to the scene, and American Township and Shawnee Township fire departments provided mutual aid in the form of additional ladder trucks.
The origin of the fire remains under investigation, and no dollar estimate of damages was given.
The fire also knocked out electricity from AEP Ohio for several hours to neighboring properties, including Woof Boom radio stations in downtown Lima.
England has a lengthy arrest record, according to the Lima Municipal Court website, with charges over the past five years that include intoxication, inducing panic, disorderly conduct and falsification. His address in an intoxication case from earlier this month was listed in court records as “homeless.”
According to the Allen County Auditor’s website, the Elizabeth Street structure was constructed in 1920 and is owned by Lima Roxy Inc.
Historian Anna Selfridge from the Allen County Museum said other records show the building dates back to 1904. She said the original Roxy Grill “goes back to 1939” when it was opened by Evans (Evangelos) Pseekos, who came to Lima from Detroit, where he’d operated a Greek restaurant since at least 1920. The establishment became a “fine dining spot” in what was known as the Blattenberg Block in downtown Lima, Selfridge said.
The Elizabeth Street site also housed Lima Tayloring Co. and Stormy’s House of Blues at various points in its history, according to the local historian.
Lima Roxy Inc. purchased the building from Timothy Goedde for $225,000 in May 1998, according to the Allen County Auditor’s website. The building was valued by the auditor’s office at $148,400, while the land was valued at $64,200.