Justin Fronek will be sentenced at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 after pleading no contest to menacing and unlawful restraint involving a Wellington youth group.
A jury trial had been set for Jan. 23 but Fronek accepted a plea bargain. By entering a plea of no contest on Dec. 15, he did not legally admit guilt but was still found by the court to be guilty.
The 32-year-old Pittsfield Township man had originally been charged with counts including felonious assault, using weapons while intoxicated, inducing panic, criminal trespass, and 16 counts of abduction.
They stem from a late night incident last May in which he pointed a .22-caliber laser-sighted rifle at a group of teen campers from First Baptist Church, according to prosecutors.
“Our goal was never that Mr. Fronek would have his life ruined by this. But it was a serious situation, in my mind, and I hope he learns a lesson from it,” said First Baptist pastor Tom Alexander after we informed him of the plea.
“Obviously we want him to understand that that kind of behavior is not acceptable in society today,” he later added.
According to police, Fronek, who had been drinking, said he’d mistaken the campers for trespassers.
His lawyer, Kenneth Nelson, maintained that the incident was a case of mistaken identity, saying Fronek had been at a bonfire on his property and ventured into the woods to investigate a suspicious noise.
Wellington police Lt. Jeff Shelton characterized what officers saw: “If you walked into a field and saw a man pointing a gun at a group of kids, would you think it was an accident?”
Alexander said he was thankful no one was hurt during the incident — including Fronek, who “could have been shot and killed by police right in front of the kids.”
He called it a traumatic event for those involved. While some have found a sense of normalcy, one teen in particular is having a very difficult time recovering.
That the case has ended before going to trial is a positive, said Alexander, because this way the teenagers won’t have to relive the terrifying ordeal by testifying in open court.
After he was first charged, Fronek was ordered to surrender all firearms to the Wellington police; avoid contact with the victims, their families, the church, or the church’s staff; stay out of the village; and wear a GPS monitoring device.
This fall, his lawyers petitioned the court to have the GPS device removed and were denied.
A Lorain County grand jury indicted Fronek on misdemeanor counts, sending the case to the Oberlin Municipal Court, where the final plea was entered.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.