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Man in custody after search

Scott Seitz • Jul 13, 2015 at 11:18 AM

A rural Wakeman man was taken into custody Wednesday night after a lengthy search by law-enforcement personnel.

Joseph M. Allen, 30, of 4721 Zenobia Road, is facing the initial charges of criminal trespassing and obstruction of justice after Wednesday's incident.

Huron County Sheriff Dane Howard and Chief Deputy Ted Patrick provided details Thursday.

Patrick said the sheriff's office received a call at 8:27 a.m. from a Zenobia Road resident.

"They called to report there was an out-building that had burnt to the ground next door," Patrick said.

"Deputies were dispatched, along with Sheriff Howard and upon arrival saw the remains of a building," he added. "We also smelled what we thought was gasoline.

"Gasoline and another accelerant was found to be poured in other buildings including a shed, out-building and throughout the home which was on that lot, also. The home was vacant," Patrick said.

"Set between the buildings were blankets, towels and sheets in a pattern 3-feet wide," Patrick said. "These were saturated with a mixture of gas and oil and formed a trail or sort of a wick."

Deputies contacted the Wakeman Fire District, which responded the scene.

"Deputies set up a perimeter around the lot, which included the home, out-building and garage," Patrick said. "Ohio Edison also cut power to the home."

Patrick said he, along with Howard, and Detectives Eric Bardar and Sgt. Bill Duncan entered the home, but did not find Allen inside the residence.

"We then received a tip that a man, who matched the subject's description who we were looking for, was seen earlier headed west through a bean field, carrying items in a duffel bag," Patrick said.

Deputies were dealing with both a missing persons case, while investigating the fire.

"Relatives had indicated the subject was out of sorts, struggling with a reported disability," Howard said.

"We were deeply concerned with his mental health and welfare, so we activated the alert system," the sheriff said. "We were dealing with a crime scene and search efforts at the same time. We called in several special deputies, along with a special deputy who used his airplane and the K-9 units. We also used the Wakeman fire department's thermal-imaging unit."

Deputies proceeded to search 2 miles of surrounding woods.

"The K-9 handlers were able to track his belongings," Howard said, though the subject wasn't located at that time.

"This search lasted over six hours, covering several square miles through a flooded area where deputies were waist-deep in water," he said. "Once they were waist-deep, I ordered them to pull back.

"Later, two uniformed deputies located the subject not far from the woods," Howard said. "It was obvious he (Allen) was in the water for some time."

Howard said when he, Patrick, Bardar and Duncan initially searched the home, the house was completely covered with accelerants.

Any spark could have caused a huge fire and put the officers lives in danger.

"We had no other choice," the sheriff said. "It was the right thing to do."

Howard said he and Patrick, as the commanding officers, indicated they were going into the home. Bardar and Duncan volunteered to go inside also.

"The deputies worked hard in extremely dangerous situations, including the flood waters and fire," Howard said.

"And, the citizens of Clarksfield Township helped us immensely in the search for this individual," he added.

Allen, who was taken into custody at 8:42 p.m., was transported to the county jail and evaluated by a mental health professional.

The fire remains under investigation.

Howard said this case has no connection to the recent mobile home fire at Firelands Manor in Wakeman.

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