From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Arsonist's Bail Set at $1 Million Following

Date 04 May 1996 15:23:13


96149      Arsonist's Bail Set at $1 Million Following 
         Devastating Blaze  at Trinity Presbyterian Church 
                         by Julian Shipp 
SAN DIEGO--A 26-year-old man accused of setting fire to Trinity 
Presbyterian Church in Spring Valley, Calif., pleaded not guilty March 27 
to felony arson as well as to two counts of animal cruelty following a 
devastating blaze that caused $1.3 million in damage to the church's 
      Mark Elliot Stimpson of Spring Valley, Calif., stabbed two dogs just 
two hours before flames gutted the church on March 18, prosecutor Wes 
Scherman said. One dog died, he added. 
     Scherman argued that Stimpson is a danger to the community, and El 
Cajon Municipal Court Judge Susan Huguenor granted the prosecutor's request 
to raise Stimpson's bail from $500,000 to $1 million. 
     Defense lawyer Ken Kaminski said Stimpson was unemployed and couldn't 
make even $5,000 bail. Stimpson and his family are church members, 
according to the Rev. Randy Yenter, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church. 
     "I've known [Stimpson] real well for nearly two years," Yenter told 
the Presbyterian News Service. "This comes as a blow to both me and the 
congregation. There was no friction between him and the church or any 
problems anywhere at all." 
     It took 31 firefighters about 45 minutes to extinguish the blaze, 
which could be seen for miles, according to authorities. One firefighter 
received minor injuries but did not require hospitalization. 
     The large A-frame church was built in 1961. Due to its design, which 
measures 65 feet from the base of the floor to the highest part of the 
ceiling, firefighters had difficulty positioning their ladders to combat 
the blaze on the uppermost part of the roof. 
     Yenter said one significant loss was the theater-style pipe organ 
valued at $250,000. It was dedicated just five months ago, after more than 
two years of installation work by the Theater Organ Society of San Diego. 
The instrument was featured in monthly concerts. 
     The 300-capacity church also lost three pianos, a near complete set of 
choir bells, and most of the artifacts surrounding the altar. 
     But despite the loss, Yenter said he is encouraged by the community's 
support. He said Presbyterians and others have sent money and that the 
church will be rebuilt in approximately 18 months. He said anyone wanting 
to send a donation can mail it to Trinity Presbyterian Church, 3902 Kenwood 
Drive, Spring Valley, CA 91977.  
     Mary Elva Smith, acting executive presbyter of San Diego Presbytery, 
said the presbytery  is praying for the congregation and has offered 
assistance, but for now can only evaluate damage reports from insurance 
agents and wait until work crews remove potentially hazardous asbestos 
panels from the church before viewing the damage firsthand. 
     "To date nobody has been able to go in and do anything because of all 
the asbestos involved," Smith said. "Then the next question is structural 
integrity. And until they determine whether the building can stand, nobody 
is going in except the hard-hat crews."    
      Still,  reconciliation is occurring. Yenter said a special worship 
service featuring firefighters from six fire department companies was held 
March 24 at the church fellowship hall. Although the congregation is 
"wrestling and dealing" with the question of forgiveness, Yenter said, he 
believes they ultimately will become "closer and stronger" from this 
     "We've titled the next two years  Building for God's Kingdom,'" Yenter 
said. "We choose not to say  rebuilding' because that's not what we're 
about. We're building for God's kingdom and this is not going to stop us 
from our original intent of building God's kingdom in east San Diego 
(Information for this story was also compiled by Maria C. Hunt of the "San 
Diego Union-Tribune.") 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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