From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Arsonist's Bail Set at $1 Million Following
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
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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