Justin Fronek has been sentenced to 480 days in jail for holding a Wellington church youth group at gunpoint last May.
“I apologize to the kids and to the pastor,” he said in Oberlin Municipal Court. “If I could turn back time, I would’ve just called the police when I heard screaming in the woods. My kids said I needed to check out the screaming, so I got my .22 rifle from the chicken house and headed out. Once I realized who the kids and the pastor were, I apologized.”
Two First Baptist Church campers sat in the courtroom — Bryce Wylie, 17, and Ethan Burns, 14 — who each spoke and whose families gave permission for their names and images to be used.
“I’m seeing a counselor,” said Burns. “I’ve had trouble in school and have had to get extra help. I feel fear when I walk around town. How can he ever be trusted again with a gun? He should go to jail.”
“I haven’t been normal since this happened,” said Wylie. “My heart beats a little harder than it should. I use to love walking at night, but when I do now all I see is red.”
Fronek, 32, will likely only serve 60 days starting March 6, as long as he complies with a list of terms handed down by judge Thomas Januzzi.
Those conditions include five years of probation in which Fronek must avoid involvement in any other violent offense, cannot use alcohol or any illegal drugs, cannot own firearms, must undergo intensive probation supervision, and may not have any contact with the victims in the incident. He was also ordered to undergo a comprehensive mental evaluation.
If he fails to meet those requirements, Fronek will have to report Aug. 21 for two 60-day stays behind bars.
Fronek is guilty of two counts of aggravated menacing and four counts of unlawful restraint, all misdemeanors.
He had previously faced a total of 32 charges. When he pleaded no contest Dec. 15, 26 of those were dismissed following a motion from former Wellington village prosecutor Donald Zaleski.
That hearing was overseen by a guest judge, John Ridge of Norwalk.
Since then, Wellington has switched prosecutors, moving from Zaleski to Joe LaVeck.
Januzzi asked LaVeck and Fronek’s defense attorney, Kenneth Lieux, to explain why only six charges remained.
“Originally, the charges encompassed everyone that had been at that camp-out,” said Lieux at the sentencing. “That’s what the 16 charges were. In my view, the facts didn’t support those charges, and prosecutor Zaleski agreed. The charges presented today encompass the two individuals here today, who were the first people Mr. Fronek encountered in the woods.”
Lieux said the incident was a misunderstanding and his client’s intent was to protect his own property. He asked the court to consider only probation and community service.
LaVeck felt Fronek, who had been drinking the night of the incident, was not taking full responsibility for what happened.
“He had to make a significant detour off of his own property to encounter the group,” he said. “He had the opportunity that night to deescalate the situation but chose not to. He screamed expletives at the children when they asked to leave. Police detected alcohol on his person. The law doesn’t make exceptions for bad decisions made under the influence of alcohol.”
Wellington police Lt. Jeff Shelton responded to the incident and said Fronek did not drop his gun until being asked three times by officers. He said statements made by Fronek and Lieux did not paint an accurate picture of what happened.
“Kids should be able to go to church without fear,” he said. “(Fronek) came seconds from losing his life. We weren’t going to ask him a fourth time to drop the gun. We put ourselves between the 16 kids and him. He’s lucky. It wasn’t anywhere close to his property and he shouldn’t have been out there.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise Justin Fronek, alongside defense attorney Kenneth Lieux, addresses two members of a Pittsfield Township church youth group he held at gunpoint May 27 of last year. He was sentenced Jan. 19 in the Oberlin Municipal Court to 480 days in jail, with at least 300 of those being conditionally suspended.