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Published: Thursday, 5/2/2002

Sandusky boathouse fire jurors screened

SANDUSKY - Jury selection continued yesterday in the trial of a civil lawsuit against two men who allegedly burned down 35 boathouses by accident.

By the end of the afternoon, 21 prospective jurors had been called over two days for the eight-person panel that will hear the case against Robert Rodwancy and Leon Kimberlin. Three dozen boathouse owners and a dozen insurance companies have sued the men in Erie County Common Pleas Court, claiming that they caused the fire on Jan. 16, 1999, while using a propane torch to thaw frozen pipes.

The blaze, which also destroyed 30 boats, caused damage estimated at $4 million.

So far, attorneys for the plaintiffs have dismissed four potential jurors, while attorneys for the defendants have excused three people from the panel. Each side is allowed six peremptory challenges.

Mr. Kimberlin is represented by Jerome Savoy, an attorney from Elyria, Ohio. Mr. Rodwancy's attorney is Mark Meister of Toledo.

The lead attorneys for the plaintiffs are Patrick O'Malley and Herb Nussle of Cleveland, M. Andrew Sway of Columbus, and Carl Anderson of Sandusky.

Numerous other jurors have been excused by Judge Ann Maschari because of medical conditions, scheduling problems, or potential conflicts of interest. Opening statements are expected in the trial by this afternoon.

Sandusky fire officials ruled the blaze an accident. They said it started in a boathouse owned by Mr. Kimberlin, who told them he had been thawing pipes.

But the extensive damage made it impossible to determine the cause of the blaze, investigators said.

The numerous lawsuits filed after the fire have been combined into a single case. The plaintiffs seek damages in excess of $25,000.

Judge Maschari said the jury, once selected, will decide whether Mr. Kimberlin and Mr. Rodwancy are liable for the fire. If they are found liable, a later proceeding will determine the amount of any damages, the judge said.

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