Fire set at Salisbury church days after minister's arrest

Unclear if abuse charges, arson are related

February 06, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

State officials were investigating yesterday a fire set in a Salisbury church days after one of its ministers was charged with sex abuse in a case that involves a teenage member of the congregation.

New Life the Apostolic Church sustained an estimated $85,000 in damage after a fire was set in an entrance foyer Friday night, state fire marshal officials said yesterday.

Earlier last week, Joshua Wayne Lawson, 29, a minister at the church, was arrested on charges including sex abuse, second-degree assault and perverted practice stemming from a relationship authorities said he had last year with a 16-year-old girl who attended the church, said Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis R. Ruark.

The church's Web site says Lawson was a youth minister.

Lawson was taken to the Wicomico County Detention Center and released Thursday after posting bail, an officer at the center said.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Jason M. Mowbray said his office was investigating several leads. Officials did not say that Lawson's arrest was connected to the fire, but Mowbray said they are considering that as a possibility in their investigation.

Investigators believe someone entered the church Friday and ignited "combustibles" along a wall. Several dozen Salisbury firefighters brought the fire under control in minutes, officials said, and the blaze was confined to the foyer.

The church has been open since the 1990s and has nearly 400 members, according to the fire marshal. A telephone call placed to the church yesterday afternoon was not returned.

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