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Teens, Parents Sued Over Russell House Fire

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The victims in a December 2014 arson in Russell Township are suing three teenagers who allegedly started the fire that destroyed their rented home.

The plaintiffs, Kristyn and Freddy Duarte, and their two minor children, are also suing the teenagers’ parents as a result of the Dec. 28 house fire that killed the family’s two cats.

In the lawsuit filed May 5 in the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, the Duartes claim damages in excess of $250,000. They also allege the three defendants broke into the home and stole “jewelry, papers and other items of personal property” before torching and vandalizing the house at 14731 County Line Road.

Hanna Sedlak and Julianne Budzik, both of Russell, and Riley Fanning, of Westlake, are named in the civil lawsuit.

At least two of the three teenagers, who were all minors at the time, have been charged with crimes including aggravated arson and burglary. They are scheduled to appear in Geauga County Juvenile Court on May 21 to determine whether their criminal cases should be transferred to adult court for prosecution.

“In the days leading up to Dec, 28, 2014, the three defendants … planned, plotted and conspired to exact revenge against their horse trainer, Freddy Duarte, for reporting the minors’ illegal drug activity,” attorney Mary Jane Trapp, a partner with Thrasher, Dinsmore & Dolan, a Legal Professional Association, alleged in plaintiffs’ complaint.

While the Duarte family was out of the country on vacation — and knowing the family pets were in the home — Sedlak, Fanning and Budzik drove together to the Duartes’ home, broke into it, burglarized it, vandalized it and then burned it down, Trapp said in the complaint.

“The plaintiffs’ two cats were also killed in the blaze,” she said.

“In the days that followed, (Sedlak, Fanning and Budzik) made false and defamatory statements about the (Duartes), which were designed to continue their conspiracy to exact revenge and to harm plaintiffs’ reputation and business,” Trapp alleged.

As a result of their actions, Trapp claimed many of the Duartes’ other clients “left for other trainers, fearful that even being associated with plaintiffs would make them and their horses the next targets of the … defendants’ criminal acts.”

Although the exact amount of business the Duartes’ lost is uncertain, Trapp estimated their loss of income at more than $9,000 per month.

The Duartes also claim serious emotional distress of more than $1 million as a result of the defendants’ actions as well as other damages.

The teenagers’ parents are each liable to the Duartes for the statutory limit of $15,000 plus reasonable attorney fees for their child, each of whom conspired to commit the criminal acts, Trapp said.

The civil case has been assigned to Judge Forrest W. Burt.