St. Charles Herald-Guide

Man pleads guilty in church arson

By Jonathan Menard - April 5, 2012

A 38-year-old New Sarpy man has pleaded guilty to simple arson for starting a fire that destroyed the River of Life Christian Fellowship Church last October.

Mark Bailey, who aso pleaded guilty to simple burglary of a religious building, was sentenced to two years with all but five months of the sentence were suspended. Bailey was also placed on active probation for five years and must perform 250 hours of community service.

Half of those community service hours must be performed at a church.

Jerry Cotton, 58, was also arrested in connection with the crime but has entered a not guilty plea to a charge of simple burglary of a religious building. His case is pending.

Authorities say that the fire began when Bailey and Cotton attempted to steal scrap metal off of a trailer behind the church.

During the investigation of the fire, police say they located some stolen property from the church in the two menís homes.

The fire occurred at about 8 p.m. on Oct. 3 and by the time it was put out, flames and damage had spread to every room of the church.

Pastor Curtis Stacey said that the storage trailer was going to be removed the next day and that the church staff was moving everything out of it. He said that somehow the two men found out that the trailer was going to be removed and decided to try to salvage materials from it. He believes that a torch was used to try to take aluminum off the side of the trailer, which resulted in the fire.

Authorities say that the fire then jumped from the trailer to the nearby church building.

After the fire, churches, industry and residents all chipped in to help the River of Life Christian Fellowship Church.

Stacey said that Valero and Boh Bros. Construction tore down the burned building free of charge to prepare the site for the construction of a new River of Life Christian Fellowship Church. Other parish churches and members of the community have made donations to help the church.

Stacey and his flock have also been able to continue their church services. Stacey said that two days after the fire, Rev. Henry LeBoyd Jr. visited him and said that the River of Life congregation could hold their services at his church, which is only blocks away.

"Iím just putting it in Godís hands," Stacey said. "People have been giving to us and now we can concentrate on building a new church."

The church is accepting donations to help it rebuild. Donations can also be mailed to ROL Christian Church, P.O. Box 417, New Sarpy, LA 70078.