Thursday, December 14, 2000

College leaders visit family of student killed in fire

Housemate's bond set at $250,000

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DAYTON, Ohio — As a $250,000 bond was set for a University of Dayton student charged in his housemate's fiery death, a trio of officials from the university — including its president — visited the victim's family Wednesday in Symmes Township.

        UD President Brother Raymond L. Fitz, his brother, the Rev. James Fitz, director of campus ministries, and Public Safety Director John Delamer offered condolences to the family of A.J. Cohen. The 21-year-old senior football player died Sunday in a university-owned house he shared with seven other students.

        “It was a nice gesture, very nice. We really appreci ated it,” said Barrett Cohen, A.J.'s brother, following the visit. “Everyone throughout Southwest Ohio has just been amazing with all of their prayers and support. We'd like to thank everybody for all of that. It's been the one silver lining in this dark cloud.”

        A.J. was asleep in a second-floor bedroom while some of his housemates ap parently were goofing around with ignited rolls of paper towels, police have said. After the fire spread, the students tried unsuccessfully to put it out — and to alert A.J. The home's smoke alarm system somehow had been disabled, authorities said.

        One of Mr. Cohen's housemates, Paul Vincent Morgan, 20, of suburban Rochester, N.Y., is charged with arson and involuntary manslaughter — felonies carrying sentences of almost 12 years. Prosecutors haven't detailed Mr. Morgan's alleged criminal conduct — and Mr. Morgan's attorney, John H. Rion, claims his client is innocent.

        During Mr. Morgan's initial court appearance Wednesday, Dayton Municipal Court “was filled with UD students eager to support Paul during this — all of them knowing both (Mr. Cohen and Mr. Morgan),” Mr. Rion said. “He really isn't troubled by these allegations because he has confidence in his innocence. He's more troubled by the loss of a good friend.”

        At last check, Mr. Morgan's parents, Rosemary and Neil Custer, were still attempting to secure their son's release from the Montgomery County Jail by posting 10 percent of his bond. Mr. Morgan's parents and brother had accompanied him when he turned himself in at Dayton police headquarters Tuesday night.

        Mr. Rion said his client had not been on the second floor of the house, where the fire may have originated; Mr. Rion suggests the fire may have had an electrical cause.

        Describing Mr. Morgan as “a genuinely nice person,” Mr. Rion said his client was working two jobs to pay his way through college. Mr. Morgan, a marketing major who has attended UD since the fall of 1998, has no criminal record.

        The house, in the 400 block of Stonemill Road, is considered a total loss, with about $75,000 damage to the building and $40,000 damage to its contents.

        Today, prayers for Mr. Cohen will be included in UD's regularly scheduled monthly memorial Mass, said UD spokeswoman Pam Huber. The mass is set for 12:05 p.m. at the Immaculate Conception Chapel on campus.

        Friends may call from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Mihovk-Rosenacker Funeral Home, 5527 Cheviot Road, White Oak.

        A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at Good Shepherd Church, 8815 E. Kemper Road, Montgomery.


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