Leigh Anne's Restaurant diners share thoughts on fires

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By Jesef Williams

Peep through the windows from Leigh Anne's Restaurant and you can see much of what's left of the nearby Lancaster County Courthouse. Blackened roof beams and scattered rubble tell the story.

Some customers of the popular Catawba Street diner were eating breakfast there Monday morning as firefighters battled for hours to extinguish the courthouse fire.

Since then, restaurant owner Mark Culler said the courthouse fire has been the hot topic of discussion among his patrons. And now, there's more to talk about after the 6th Circuit Solicitor's office burned early Thursday.

Officials determined early that arson was cause of the fire at the courthouse. Officials have released few details about the cause of the fire at the solicitor's office.

"Everybody's got that look of disappointment and sadness," Culler said Thursday.

Lancaster resident Kathryn Hagler believes the arsonist was, for some reason, trying to destroy evidence or other pending court records. She doesn't think the fires were random acts of violence.

"I don't think gang members did that," Hagler said, looking in the direction of the charred courthouse. "I think it's somebody mad at the court system, or mad at the world."

Hagler worries what may be next.

She wants to see an arrest soon.

"It's just a shame," she said. "I'm sad, angry, upset – all of it."

Fellow Lancaster resident Billy Hinson is also concerned.

He said he doesn't want to see another downtown building fall to the hands of an arsonist.

Hinson, who was hired in the past to paint portions of the courthouse, said he's saddened because a big piece of Lancaster's history is gone.

"I wonder if they're targeting the justice system in Lancaster," Hinson said. "Now I'm wondering if it's going to be another one (fire)."

Around noon Thursday, Kyle Randle was catching up on news of the courthouse fire in the paper while waiting for his food to be served.

He believes the same individual or group is also responsible for the blaze at the solicitor's office on West Dunlap Street, just across from the courthouse.

"It affirmed in me that someone has a plan and is obviously willing to stop at nothing to prevent justice from occurring," Randle said.

While chowing down on her lunch, Elouise McCree took a moment to share her thoughts about the fires. She was alarmed that someone would destroy a building with as much historic significance as the 180-year-old courthouse.

"I though about the history," McCree said. "You can't get that back."

McCree said she was more shocked after hearing about the solicitor's office burning Thursday morning. She hopes there won't be another similar fire here.

"I'm concerned," McCree said. "I hope they continue to investigate to find the responsible person or persons."

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152