GREENVILLE – Day One of an arson trial in Darke County Common Pleas Court was disrupted Monday as the courtroom was cleared for tornado warnings in the area.
Tony Bandedo, 39, of Greenville, is on trial accused of hiring someone to destroy his vehicle by arson in order to collect the insurance. The incident occurred in December of 2013. He was indicted on one count of arson, a third-degree felony.
Jury selection began first thing Monday morning, and 13 jurors (12 regular and one alternate) were selected from a pool of 35 called. The jury was seated with five men and eight women.
Assistant Darke County Prosecutor Deborah Quigley presented her opening statement, contending that Bandedo arranged to have his 2012 Toyota Camry stolen and destroyed, but the defense countered that such a plan would not make sense, because the insurance payoff for the vehicle was less than the remaining payments. They also noted that Christmas gifts for Bandedo’s four children were inside the vehicle at the time, so the father would not have intentionally destroyed them. Bandedo also supposedly continued to make the payments on the destroyed vehicle for 18 months afterward.
First responders to the scene of the vehicle engulfed in flame were the first to take the stand as witnesses.
Deputy Steve Cox, who has served for 10 years with the Darke County Sheriff’s Office, was the first on the scene, dispatched to the intersection of Hartle and Oliver roads for a car reported on fire. Cox said he found the vehicle fully engulfed sitting in the northbound lane of travel in the 8800 block of Hartle Road. No one was inside.
Ansonia Fire Department arrived on scene to extinguish the fire. Cox said he called on Deputy Ron Beisner to assist finding anyone who might have left the scene on foot.
Beisner testified to seeing footprints in the snow near the car fire, but no photographs and no measurements were taken. He also reported there were tire tracks found nearby.
Also testifying was Mark Sargent, who works as a forensic mechanic for Motor Vehicle Forensic Services in Cleveland. Sargent, who specializes in failure analysis, defect investigations and fire investigations, was declared an expert for purposes of his testimony.
The trial was interrupted about 2:30 in the afternoon when tornado sirens sounded in the city. Judge Jonathan Hein kept the court in session at first while the bailiff monitored the situation. He then released the courtroom for evacuation to the basement of the courthouse, along with the rest of the occupants of the building at that time.