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Two teens get probation in Poplar Bluff church arson
POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Two Poplar Bluff teenagers recently were placed on probation after pleading guilty to throwing Molotov cocktails into a local church, then setting the church on fire when the devices didn't work.
Robert Benjamin Rushin, 19, of the 700 block of County Road 456, and Zachary Edward Surque, 19, of the 100 block of County Road 4703, pleaded guilty last week to second-degree arson.
"It was a negotiated [plea]; it was an offer I made," Butler County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Barbour said.
Rushin and Surque, both of whom Barbour described as having no criminal history, pleaded guilty in connection with a Feb. 6 fire at Fellowship General Baptist Church in which the church's youth room was damaged.
After accepting the teens' pleas, Presiding Circuit Judge Michael Pritchett suspended the imposition of their sentences and placed them each on five years' supervised probation.
Each also has to pay $5,000 restitution as a special condition of his probation, Barbour said.
Pritchett ordered the restitution to be paid at no less than $100 per month, beginning Thursday.
The money, Barbour said, will be used to reimburse the church for "whatever it was out of pocket."
The amount "more than covers what they were out, then I'll forward" the remaining restitution to the church's insurance company, Barbour said.
Church officials said the insurance company paid about $186,000 to repair the damage to its youth room.
In exchange for Rushin and Surque's pleas on the arson charge, Barbour said, a felony charge of unlawful use of a weapon was dismissed by the state.
Also charged with the second-degree arson and unlawful use of a weapon in connection with the fire are Dylan W. Causbie, 17, of the 200 block of County Road 437, and Andrew Storm McClure, 20, of the 2000 block of Tumbleweed Trail.
Attorneys representing McClure and Causbie appeared last week before Pritchett and had their clients' cases continued to 9 a.m. Dec. 20 for plea or trial setting.
The charges stem from a fire that was reported to the Butler County Sheriff's Department just before 3:45 a.m. Feb. 6.
Preliminary scene examination, according to earlier reports, revealed the cause of the fire was incendiary after a Molotov cocktail was found intact inside the building. Windows allegedly were broken and the Molotov cocktails thrown inside.
Perrier water bottles allegedly were used to make the cocktails, and their purchase was tracked to the Walmart Supercenter.
Surveillance video from the store, as well as witness statements, identified the four as suspects in the fire.
After their arrests, Rushin, McClure and Causbie told officers about their alleged actions the night of the fire, including how they had purchased the water bottles and used them.
They also allegedly told about later returning to the church, only to find no fire, and then allegedly dumping gasoline into the building through the broken windows and igniting it.
The fire "gutted everything in that room," including its walls and ceiling, heating and air conditioning system and electrical wiring, as well as its contents, according to pastor Byron Beck.
Since the room was used for youth activities, Beck said, it contained a number of electronic devices.
Poplar Bluff, MO