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Published: Wednesday, 8/19/2009

Restaurant owner indicted in Wauseon blaze

BY NEENA SATIJA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The man who promised to rebuild a block of businesses in downtown Wauseon after a devastating 2007 fire has been indicted by a Fulton County grand jury for setting the fire in the first place.

Charles Bryan, Jr., was indicted yesterday on 14 counts of arson and insurance fraud, with 12 of the charges related to the April 14, 2007, fire that destroyed seven businesses that employed about 50 people.

Hundreds of firefighters from nearly 30 area fire departments worked to put out the fire, and the damaged buildings had to be torn down.

A little more than two weeks after the fire, investigators ruled that it had been intentionally set inside Doc Holliday s restaurant, owned by Mr. Bryan, on North Fulton Street near Elm Street.

Jacob Ramos, a sales agent at the Welles Bowen office, one of the businesses destroyed in the fire, said yesterday he was surprised that there had been an arrest more than two years after the blaze.

I guess we were all just a little startled, said Mr. Ramos, whose office has since relocated to Shoop Avenue. It s been two years we kind of just thought it was a lost cause.

Bryan Bryan
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Also destroyed in the 2007 fire were Shaw s Clothing, T.H.E. Health Food Store, Gallippo s Photography, JMW Computers, and a storefront church. Damage estimates were in the millions of dollars.

Mr. Bryan also was indicted yesterday on one count each of arson and insurance fraud related to a smaller fire at his restaurant in January, 2007, just three months before the multimillion-dollar blaze.

It was because of that earlier fire that Wauseon City Council member Doug Shaw, owner of Shaw s Clothing, said yesterday s indictment did not come as much of a surprise.

Mr. Bryan and his wife, Jennifer, formed Wauseon Downtown Development Co. LLC a few months after the blaze and said they intended to rebuild the restaurant with some retail space included.

Their initial plan was delayed after various investors dropped out of the project, but in May, City Council approved construction of a 10,472-square-foot building at the site. A state grant of $500,000 was to help cover the $700,000 total cost.

Wauseon Mayor Jerry Dehnbostel declined to comment yesterday on the indictment but said that Mr. Bryan s wife told him she planned to continue with the development project. Asked if other investors might pull out now, he said there was no one left.

The investors in the corporation are basically just her and her husband, Mr. Dehnbostel said.

Mr. Shaw didn t know whether the plan could continue as is but thought it might be feasible. He said the state grant was issued to redevelop the property regardless of who was involved.

I was hoping it was going to work out just to fill the void downtown, he said. A new building is much better than half a block full of gravel.

Details on how the fires may have been started and what led to the indictment were not made public yesterday. Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman and Wauseon Fire Chief Marv Wheeler did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Mr. Bryan was arrested by Wauseon police and is being held at the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, awaiting arraignment this afternoon in Fulton County Common Pleas Court.

Contact Neena Satija at: nsatija@theblade.comor 419-724-6272.



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