"Manic" Parishioner Accused of Setting Church on Fire

Monday, Feb 1, 2010  |  Updated 6:44 PM CDT
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Church Fire Stuns Parishioners

NBCChicago.com

James Deichman

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Church Fire Stuns Parishioners

Fire at Edgebrook Lutheran Church does an estimated $1 million in damage.
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A parishioner police described as "manic" is being held on $1 million bond following a fire that gutted a Northwest Side church Sunday night.

James Deichman was sitting on a flight of stairs while fire raged inside the Edgebrook Lutheran Church, in the 6400 block of N. Hiawatha Ave., according to an official report.

The three-alarm fire quickly spread to the church after being started in the rear of the rectory around 9:30 p.m.  It was initially "fully involved" in the two-and-one-half story, 50-by-200-foot church

Responding fire crews found piles of items in the middle of the floor of the church that were "burning pretty fiercely," according to Jefferson Park District police Lt. John Lewison.

Deichman admitted to starting the fire as he was being rescued from the burning church, police said.

"I set the church on fire because it was more economical," he said, according to the the police report.

Deichman, reportedly a retired postal worker, is a member of the church and was described as "manic," according to police.

Lewison said church officials suspected it may have been him and had expressed worry for him lately, even planning a social intervention. It was not known what he was worried about.

About 130 firefighters battled the blaze, which was under control by about midnight.  One was injured with a twisted ankle.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Court records show Deichman was previously convicted of felony aggravated battery to a senior citizen in 2006, to which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 88 days time served in the county jail as well as 2 years probation. His only other conviction was for misdemeanor disorderly conduct in 1997 for which he was sentenced to one year of court supervision.

He also has been charged with misdemeanor crimes five times since 1993, including battery, criminal damage to  property and aggravated assault, but charges were eventually dropped by prosecutors.
 
 

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